Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” and The Statue of Liberty


What is the relationship between the Emma Lazarus’ poem The New Colossus to the Statue of Liberty? People can disagree about the symbolic connection between the statue, the poem, and immigration but the historical details matter.

Poet Emma Lazarus was born into a New York Sephardic Jewish family in 1849. According to the National Park Service, “Aside from writing, Lazarus was also involved in charitable work for refugees. At Ward’s Island, she worked as an aide for Jewish immigrants who had been detained by Castle Garden immigration officials. She was deeply moved by the plight of the Russian Jews she met there and these experiences influenced her writing.”

With efforts to raise money for the pedestal of the Statue were underway, William Maxwell Evarts, the Chairman of the American Committee for the Statue of Liberty, and author Constance Carey Harrison recruited Lazarus’ to write a poem to be auctioned off as part of the fundraising efforts. Lazarus agreed and penned her famous poem in November 1883. Fundraising for the Statue continued over the new few years as construction moved forward.

The Statue was dedicated with a ticker tape parade and a public ceremony on the afternoon of October 28, 1886. Lazarus’s poem was formally added to the display at the Statue of Liberty 17 years later. According to the National Park Service “words from the sonnet were inscribed on a plaque and placed on the inner wall of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Today, the plaque is on display in the Statue of Liberty Exhibit in the Statue’s pedestal.”

Educators might find this excerpt from Ric Burns’ New York: A Documentary a useful resource for the classroom.

Educators, let us know how you might use these resources and ideas with your students. We would love to see how you use this post or any of our resources, send your ideas our way.

Adam Strom is the Director of the ReImagining Migration Project. Throughout his career, Mr. Strom has connected the academy to classrooms and the community by using the latest scholarship to encourage learning about identity, bias, belonging, history, and the challenges and opportunities of civic engagement in our globalized world. The resources developed under Strom’s direction have been used in tens of thousands of classrooms and experienced by millions of students around the world including Stories of Identity: Religion, Migration, and Belonging in a Changing World and What Do We Do with a Difference? France and The Debate Over Headscarves in Schools, Identity, and Belonging in a Changing Great Britain, and the viewer’s guide to I Learn America. Before joining the ReImagining Migration Project, Strom was the Director of Scholarship and Innovation at Facing History and Ourselves.

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