EMMA LAZARUS (1849-1887)

Emma Lazarus was born in New York in 1849, and raised in uptown Manhattan. As a young girl, she enjoyed writing and poetry. Her father published her first book of poems when she was a teenager, but later her writing gained more popular appreciation. Emma never married and did not need to work to support herself. She devoted her life to literature. (Taitz, 1996, p. 104) 

In 1881, at the age of 32, Emma saw the Russian Jewish refugees arrive in New York and was shocked by their poverty.  . "Overcoming her shyness, Emma visited the immigrants often. . . She brought money, food, and clothing for the destitute refugees and soon organized groups to train Jews in industrial trades. This project grew into the Hebrew Technical Institute." (Taitz, 1996, p. 105)

Her most famous words, from a poem familiar to all of us, "The New Collosus," were certainly inspired by her work with immigrants on the Lower East Side.

. . . Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Sadly, Emma Lazarus died from cancer shortly after a trip to France in 1887. She did not live to see  her poem engraved on the plaque attached to the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903, but her voice has become an immortal part of the American landscape.


http://www.jwa.org/exhibits/wov/lazarus/: A thorough overview of the life of Emma Lazarus compiled by the Jewish Women's Archive.


Lazarus, Emma. Admetus and Other Poems. New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1871.

Lazarus, Emma. Alide: An Episode of Goethe's Life. Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott, 1874.

Lefer, Dinae. Emma Lazarus. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

Levinson, Nancy Smiler. I lift my lamp: Emma Lazarus and the Statue of Liberty. New York: Dutton, 1986.

Young, Bette Roth. Emma Lazarus in her World: Life and Letters. Philadelphia. Jewish Publication Society, 1995.