Happy Birthday, Emma!

by Joseph McKeown


 “' Give me your tired, your poor , / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!'” —Emma Lazarus

“'Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!'” —Emma Lazarus

On this day in 1849 Emma Lazarus was born into a wealthy New York family descended from Sephardic Jewish Americans. With a clear talent for poetry, she attracted the notice of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emma Lazarus’s famous poem was originally commissioned for a fund-raising campaign by artists and writers to pay for the statue’s pedestal. Only after her death did it become synonymous with the Statute of Liberty and transformed the statue into the “Mother of Exiles," welcoming new generations of immigrants from all over the world. In 1903, after determined lobbying by a friend of Lazarus who was descended from Alexander Hamilton, himself a famous immigrant, the poem was affixed to the pedestal.