Emma Lazarus Papers
Scope and Content Note
The Emma Lazarus collection contains primarily an original manuscript notebook of her poetry and material in relation to The American Hebrew “Emma Lazarus Memorial Issue.” Other items include published poetry and articles by her, copies of her poems, limited correspondence by her, obituaries and articles about her, and a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about her.
The collection is valuable to researchers studying Emma Lazarus, early women’s rights, The American Hebrew, the poem "The New Colossus," American Jewish writers, and 19th century Jewish women.
Of special interest is the original copy of her poem "The New Colossus," which is engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty. Also of interest are response letters written to The American Hebrew's request for articles memorializing Lazarus. These letters provide insight into the opinions of her contemporaries and friends concerning her personality and talents.
The collection contains 170 items organized chronologically in one carton.
A digital copy of Emma Lazarus' original manuscript notebook may be found at this link.
- undated, 1876-1987
- undated, 1876-1987
- Lazarus, Emma, 1849-1887 (Person)
Language of Materials
The collection is in English and Hebrew.
The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility or privacy.
No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Born on July 22, 1849 in New York City, Emma Lazarus was the fourth of seven surviving children to Sephardic-Ashkenazi parents Moses and Esther (Nathan) Lazarus. Lazarus was most likely privately tutored; she was proficient in German, French, and Italian. Her Jewish education consisted of knowledge of the Bible and observing a form of Sabbath and holidays, but as one of Lazarus’ associates said “the religious side of Judaism had little interest for Miss Lazarus, or for any member of her family.”
Lazarus began composing poetry inspired by classical themes in her teen years. In 1867, her father published her first book: Poems and Translations, Written between the Ages of Fourteen and Sixteen. By 1877, Lazarus was pursuing a career as a “lady magazine poet,” contributing poetry to Lippincott Magazine and Independent among others, as well as publishing a collection of poetry (Admetus and Other Poems,which includes a title poem dedicated to her correspondent, critic and advisor Ralph Waldo Emerson); an historical tragedy set in Italy in 1655 (The Spagnoletto); and a novel (Alide, An Episode of Goethe’s Life).
Historians differ as to the sharpness of change Lazarus experienced while switching her focus from Grecian idealism to Jewish immigrant and Zionist causes. According to Dan Vogel’s Emma Lazarus:
“The awakening of her Jewish consciousness, however, was really not quite so sudden. It was more a matter of a latent seed developing slowly and sporadically, and suddenly sprouting forth. The stages, in fact, may be traced in poems written over a period of fifteen years.”
Vogel refers to several poems, among them “In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport,” which was written in July 1867 and published in Admetus and Other Poems. “In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport” follows Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport” in form and meter, but unlike Longfellow’s conclusion that “the dead nations never rise again,” Lazarus insists there is still holiness in “the sacred shrine.” “In Memoriam: Rev. J.J. Lyons: Rosh Hashana 5638” written in April 1877, compares Lazarus’ Uncle, Jacques Judah Lyons, minister of the Congregation Shearith Israel, to the offering of first fruits given in the ancient temple. 1877 was also the year Lazarus was approached by Rabbi Gustav Gottheil of the Reform Temple Emanuel to translate prior German translations of three medieval Jewish poets for his hymnal. Lazarus agreed, hesitantly, fearing her lack of religious feeling would not give credit to their work. All of these beginnings seemed to whet Lazarus’ appetite for Jewish history, culture and Zionism.
An interesting record of Lazarus’ change in perspective towards Judaism is apparent in her essays written on Heinrich Heine. Lazarus held an early respect for the work of the German poet who was born Jewish and converted superficially to Lutheranism in order to attend medical school. Heine continued to struggle with his Jewish identity throughout his life. Lazarus translated several of his poems and published Heinrich Heine: Poems and Ballads in 1881. Lazarus’ two biographical and critical essays on Heine written in 1881 and 1884 demonstrate her shift of perspective; in the early essay she views Heine’s defense of Jewish causes as a coincidence of an overall belief in civil liberties and later changes her view and sees his defense as a direct expression of his Jewishness. In her 1884 essay “The Poet Heine,” published in Century, she describes him as “…a Jew with the mind and eyes of a Greek.”
As the pogroms in Russia entered public awareness, Lazarus became highly involved in her personal and professional life in combating anti-Semitic persecution. In 1880, she wrote two dramatic representations of Rashi’s life entitled “Raschi in Prague” and “Death of Raschi.” She began visiting Eastern European immigrants on Ward’s island in 1881, and became involved in efforts to create the Hebrew Technical Institute and agricultural communities for Jewish immigrants. Between 1882 and 1884, Lazarus published twenty-two essays and two editorials concerning Zionism, religious life and anti-Semitism in America. Songs of a Semite, a collection of poems and translations focusing on the above themes and previously printed in the American Hebrew and Jewish Messenger was published in 1882. A series of fourteen essays printed in 1882-1883 in The American Hebrew entitled “Epistles to the Hebrews” was posthumously published in 1900 as a book by the Federation of American Zionists. The essays outlined her Zionist ideas and plans that entailed Jewish centers in both the United States and Palestine. Lazarus' single experimentation in free verse is recorded in a series of poems entitled “By the Waters of Babylon,” written in 1883 and published in 1887. Lazarus's most famous work "The New Colossus," was created for an 1883 auction to help fund the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty (the U.S. Congress agreed to erect the statue, but not to build the pedestal). Before she completed “The New Colossus,” Lazarus worked on one less successful poem which contained similar themes and images, particularly “Gifts.” Despite the fact that the poem was read aloud at the December 3, 1883 auction, when the statue was installed and dedicated on October 28, 1886, no mention was made of the poem. In 1903, 20 years after the poem was written, Emma Lazarus's friends successfully led a campaign to have it engraved on the pedestal.
In 1883, before she wrote “The New Colossus” and “By the Waters of Babylon,” Lazarus fulfilled a long cherished dream and visited England. She met several significant people, including Robert Browning and William Morris. In August 1884, the first signs of Lazarus’ illness appeared. Her father’s death in 1885 greatly devastated her, and Lazarus again sailed to Europe to recover. She stayed in Europe for two years, visiting Holland, France, Italy. She wrote only two poems during her stay. She returned to New York on July 31, 1887 seriously ill with cancer. Lazarus passed away on November 19, 1887 and was buried in the family plot in Congregation Shearith Israel’s cemetery. She was 38 years old. Her death was memorialized in several sonnets and letters published in literary magazines. The American Hebrew published a memorial issue on December 9, 1887. The Poems of Emma Lazarus, a two-volume selection of poems and translations compiled by her sisters, was published in 1889.
Chronology of the life of Emma Lazarus
- July 22nd, Born to Moses and Esther Lazarus in New York City.
- Writes her first dated poem, September 3rd: “In Memoriam: J.E.T.”
- First book published: Poems and Translations, Written between the Ages of Fourteen and Sixteen
- Begins her friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Publishes Admetus and Other Poems
- Publishes a novel: Alide: An Episode in Goethe’s Life
- Esther Lazarus dies April 21st
- The Spagnoletto, a drama, is privately printed
- Publishes poems, translations, critical articles, reviews, and one story in various journals
- Makes her first translations of medieval Hebrew poets, from German
- Publishes a book of Heine translations: Poems and Ballads of Heinrich Heine
- In August, visits Ward’s Island refuge for Russian Jewish immigrants
- Publishes Songs of a Semite
- November 1882-February 1883
- Publishes in The American Hebrew fourteen weekly essays generally titled “An Epistle to the Hebrews”
- From May to September, visits England and France
- "The New Colossus" is written in December
- Moses Lazarus dies March 9th
- From May to August, she visits England, France, Holland and Italy
- Publishes By Waters of Babylon
- Dies November 19th in New York City at age thirty-eight. Emma is buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery, in Queens, NY, in a burial plot reserved for members of Shearith Israel Synagogue.
- December 9th, The American Hebrew publishes a special memorial issue
- Century publishes a memorial to Emma in October
- Sisters Mary and Annie select works for The Poems of Emma Lazarus, a two-volume selection (sister Josephine provides an introduction)
- Vogel, Dan. Emma Lazarus. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1980, pgs. 13-15; Hyman, Paula E. and Deborah Dash Moore (editors). Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 1997, pgs. 806.
- Vogel, pgs. 16, 27, 174-176.
- Vogel, pgs. 123-135.
- Vogel, pgs. 113, 120-122; Lazarus, Emma (translator). Poems and Ballads of Heinrich Heine. New York: Hurst and Company, 1881, pgs. vii-xxiv.
- Vogel, pgs. 132-136, 141, 144, 154-155; Encyclopedia Judaica. Jerusalem: Keter Publishing, 1971, vol. 10, p. 1517.
- Vogel, pgs. 157-159.
- Vogel, pgs. 23-26, 174.
- Dan Vogel. Emma Lazarus. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1980.
0.5 Linear Feet (1 manuscript box)
0.5 Linear Feet (1 manuscript box)
Lazarus is best remembered as author of "The New Colossus," and as a strong supporter of Jewish immigrants' rights. Her collection includes correspondence, articles, a notebook of her poetry, published copies of her poems, and copies of her obituaries.
The collection consists of a single series arranged by topic.
Located in AJHS New York, NY
The Emma Lazarus Papers were donated to the Society by Mrs. Julian B. Wolff, 1904, and by Mrs. Elsie Sang, 1986.
- Guide to the Papers of Emma Lazarus (1849-1887), undated, 1876-1987 *P-2
- Processed by Felicia Herman
- © 2009
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- Description is in English.
- October 2017: dao links added by Leanora Lange.
- March, June 2020: EHyman--post-ASpace migration cleanup (markup, format, copy editing)
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