164 Emma Lazarus Bio

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Born July 22, 1849 in New York City into a wealthy family, Emma Lazarus was educated by private tutors. Through this, she gained her love for writing as a teen and grew to be one of the most successful Jewish American writers, publishing and translating German poetry in the 1860’s. In 1866, her father privately printed her work, and in 1867, her first collection of poems, Poems and Translations appeared from commercial press. This caught the attention of well known writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Lazarus published more works such as her second volume of poetry, Admentus and other poems in 1871, Alide: An Episode in Goethe’s Life” in 1874 and a play in verse The Spagnoletto in 1876. In 1880, she was inspired to look more into her Jewish heritage after reading Daniel Deronda written by George Eliot, joining the fight against the persecution of Jews in America. She wrote through poetry and prose publishing a Polemical Pamphlet The Century and Songs of a Semite: The Dance to Death and other Poems in 1882. This was one of the first of her works to really touch on the struggles of Jewish Americans, advocating for Jewish refugees and the creation of a Jewish homeland. During her time, she traveled to England and France. There, she met poets and writers, befriending Robert Browning and William Morris. Upon her return to the U.S., she was asked to write a poem to aid in the raising of funds for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. She initially declined and instead she wrote a sonnet commemorating the plight of immigrants, called The New Colossus. The famous lines, “Give me your tired, your poor/ your huddle masses yearning to breathe,” were engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903. Her life was unfortunately cut short due to Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 38 in 1887.

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Emma Lazarus Bio by Timothy Robbins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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