Poet. She received notoriety for being an American poet during the 19th century, who wrote the sonnet lines “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Born one of seven children in the Sephardic Jewish family of Esther Nathan and Moses Lazarus, she received a classical education at home with tutors learning several languages including German, French, and Italian. Her father was a wealthy merchant. As a teenager, she began translating to English the poems of French and German writers. She published a volume of poetry, “Admetus and Other Poems” in 1871; a novel, “Alide: An Episode in Goethe’s Life” in 1874; and a drama, “The Spagnoletto” in 1876. Throughout the 1870's, her poetry was printed in several periodicals including “Lipincott's Magazine.” Exploring her Jewish heritage, she then began to translate medieval Hebrew poetry and politically advocated for a Jewish homeland. By the 1880s, the influx of Jewish immigrants from European and Russian ghettos to the United States fleeing the horrors of pogroms inspired her “Songs of a Semite: The Dance to Death and Other Poems” in 1882. In 1883, she wrote “The New Colossus” for an auction, which served as a fund raiser for the Pedestal Fund of the as yet incomplete Statue of Liberty. The poem included the iconic lines, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." In 1884, her health declined, and by 1885, she hoped travel would be beneficial. She visited Italy for the first time, followed by a second trip to England and France. Her illness, now believed to have been a form of cancer, worsened however. She returned to the United States in 1887, and succumbed to the illness a couple of months later. Her last book published in 1887 was a series of prose poems, “By the Waters of Babylon.” In 1903, her poem, “The New Colossus,” was engraved on a plaque and affixed to the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. In 2009, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. Her personal papers are archived by the American Jewish Historical Society and her letters are archived at Columbia University. On her mother's side, she was a cousin to Benjamin Nathan Cordoza, United States Supreme Court Associate Justice. After Esther Schor's 2006 biography, “Emma Lazarus,” a revitalization of her works was noted.
Bio by: Iola
In memory of
Daughter of Moses and Esther Lazarus