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Emma Lazarus (July 22, 1849November 19, 1887) was an Americanmarker poet born in New York Citymarker.

She is best known for "The New Colossus", a sonnet written in 1883; its final lines were engraved on a bronze plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Libertymarker in 1912. The sonnet was solicited by William Maxwell Evarts as a donation to an auction, conducted by the "Art Loan Fund Exhibition in Aid of the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund for the Statue of Liberty" to raise funds to build the pedestal.


Lazarus was the fourth of seven children of Moshe Lazarus and Esther Nathan, Portuguesemarker Sephardic Jews whose families had been settled in New Yorkmarker since the colonial period. She was related through her mother to Benjamin N. Cardozo, Associate Justice of the US Supreme Courtmarker.

From an early age, she studied Americanmarker and European literature, as well as several languages, including German, French, and Italian. Her writings attracted the attention of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He corresponded with her up until his death.

Lazarus is buried in Beth-Olom Cemetery in Brooklynmarker.

Literary career

She wrote her own poems and edited many adaptations of German poems, notably those of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Heinrich Heine. She also wrote a novel and two plays.

Lazarus began to be more interested in her Jewish ancestry after reading the George Eliot novel, Daniel Deronda, and as she heard of the Russianmarker pogroms in the early 1880s. This led Lazarus to write articles on the subject. She also began translating the works of Jewish poets into English. Expelled in great numbers from the Russian Pale of Settlement, eastern European Ashkenazi Jews immigrated in destitute multitudes to New York in the winter of 1882. Lazarus taught technical education to help them become self-supporting.

She traveled twice to Europe, first in May 1885 after the death of her father in March and again in September 1887. She returned to New York City seriously ill after her second trip and died two months later on 19 November 1887, most likely from Hodgkin's disease.

She is known as an important forerunner of the Zionist movement. She argued for the creation of a Jewish homeland thirteen years before Herzl began to use the term Zionism.


Further reading

  • Cavitch, Max. "Emma Lazarus and the Golem of Liberty," American Literary History 18.1 (2006), 1-28
  • Eiselein, Gregory. Emma Lazarus: Selected Poems and Other Writings. USA: Broadview Press, 2002. ISBN 1-55111-285-X.
  • Jacob, H. E. The World of Emma Lazarus. New York: Schocken, 1949; New York: Kessing Publishers, 2007, ISBN 1-43-2514-164.
  • Lazarus, Emma. Emma Lazarus: Selected Poems. USA: Library of America, 2005. ISBN 1-931082-77-4.
  • Moore, H. S. Liberty's Poet: Emma Lazarus. USA: TurnKey Press, 2004. ISBN 0-9754803-4-0.
  • Schor, Esther. Emma Lazurus. New York: Schocken, 2006. ISBN 0-8052-4216-3. [50049]
  • Young, B. R. Emma Lazarus in Her World: Life and Letters. USA: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1997. ISBN 0-8276-0618-4.


  1. Watts, Emily Stipes. The Poetry of American Women from 1632 to 1945. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977: 123. ISBN 0-292-76540-2
  2. p. 3: Auction event named as " Lowell says poem gave the statue "a raison e'tre;" fell into obscurity; not mentioned at statue opening; Georgina Schuyler's campaign for the plaque
  3. p. 45: Solicited by "William Maxwell Evert" [sic; presumably William Maxwell Evarts] Lazarus refused initially; convinced by Constance Cary Harrison
  4. Yearning for Zion by Briana Simon (WZO Hagshama)

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