Guide to the Papers of Emma Lazarus (1849-1887), undated, 1876-1877, 1880-1882, 1884, 1887-1888, 1904-1905, 1934, 1987

Processed by Felicia Herman

American Jewish Historical Society

Center for Jewish History

15 West 16th Street

New York, N.Y. 10011

Phone: (212) 294-6160



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Machine-readable finding aid created by Felicia Herman as MS Word document, August 1995. Finding aid was encoded by Marvin Rusinek on March 5, 2009. Description is in English.
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Descriptive Summary

Creator: Emma Lazarus
Title: Emma Lazarus, papers
Dates:undated, 1876-1877, 1880-1882, 1884, 1887-1888, 1904-1905, 1934, 1987
Abstract: 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.
Languages: The collection is in English and Hebrew.
Quantity: 0.5 linear feet (1 manuscript box)
Identification: P-2
Repository: American Jewish Historical Society
Location: Located in AJHS New York, NY
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Biographical Note
portrait of Emma Lazarus

Emma Lazarus (1849-1887)

Emma Lazarus (1849-1887)

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.”1

Lazarus began writing poetry inspired by classical themes in her teens, and from 1866-1867, 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 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).2

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:

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.3

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.”4

With the onset of pogroms in Russia entering public awareness, Lazarus became highly involved in her work and personal 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 1887.5

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 two less successful poems which contain similar themes and images: “1492” and “Gifts.” “The New Colossus” was read at the Statue of Liberty’s dedication on October 28, 1886, and engraved on pedestal in 1903.6

In 1883 and previous to writing “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 1889.7

Chronology of the life of Emma Lazarus8

1849July 22nd, Born to Moses and Esther Lazarus in New York City.
1863Writes her first dated poem, September 3rd: “In Memoriam: J.E.T.”
1866-1867First book published: Poems and Translations, Written between the Ages of Fourteen and Sixteen
1868Begins her friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson
1871Publishes Admetus and Other Poems
1874Publishes a novel: Alide: An Episode in Goethe’s Life
1874Esther Lazarus dies April 21st
1876The Spagnoletto, a drama, is privately printed
1876-1881Publishes poems, translations, critical articles, reviews, and one story in various journals
1877Makes her first translations of medieval Hebrew poets, from German
1881Publishes a book of Heine translations: Poems and Ballads of Heinrich Heine
1881In August, visits Ward’s Island refuge for Russian Jewish immigrants
1882Publishes Songs of a Semite
November 1882-February 1883Publishes in The American Hebrew fourteen weekly essays generally titled “An Epistle to the Hebrews”
1883From May to September, visits England and France
1883“The New Colossus” is written in December
1885Moses Lazarus dies March 9th.
1885From May to August, she visits England, France, Holland and Italy
1887Publishes By Waters of Babylon
1887Dies 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.
1887December 9th, The American Hebrew publishes a special memorial issue
1888Century publishes a memorial to Emma in October
1889Sisters Mary and Annie select works for The Poems of Emma Lazarus, a two-volume selection (sister Josephine provides an introduction)
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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.

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The collection consists of a single series arranged by topic.

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Access and Use

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers by permission of the Director of Collections and Engagement of the American Jewish Historical Society, except items that are restricted due to their fragility.

Use Restrictions

Information concerning the literary rights may be obtained from the Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society. Users must apply in writing for permission to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection. For more information contact:
American Jewish Historical Society, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY, 10011

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Related Material

Related materials can be found in the Philip Cowen Papers (P-19). Additional papers of Emma Lazarus are available at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, New York, NY.

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Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date (if known); Emma Lazarus, papers; P-2; box number; folder number; American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY.

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Acquisition Information

The Emma Lazarus Papers were donated to the Society by Mrs. Julian B. Wolff, 1904, and by Mrs. Elsie Sang, 1986.

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Access Points

Click on a subject to search that term in the Center's catalog. Return to the Top of Page

Container List

The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.

Click the box in the request column to open the form that allows you to request a box for onsite viewing in the reading room at the Center for Jewish History, New York, NY.


Collection of Emma Lazarus, undated, 1876-1877, 1880-1882, 1884, 1887-1888, 1904-1905, 1934, 1987

The Collection is in English and Hebrew.
0.5 linear feet (1 manuscript box)
Scope and Content:

See Scope and Content Note.

A digital copy of Emma Lazarus' original manuscript notebook may be found at this link.

1 1-2 2 photocopies of manuscript notebook of poems undated

1 “The New Colossus”
2 “Progress and Poverty”
3 “Venus of the Louvre”
4 “Destiny I”
5 “Destiny II”
6 “Influence”
7 “Success”
8-11 “Chopin I, II, III, IV”
12 “With a Copy of Don Quixote”
13 “To F.P.”
14 “One Augur to Another”
15 “Cranes of Ibicus”
16 “Reconciliation”
17 “Incident at Sea”
18 “Will O’ the Wisp”
19 “Assurance”
20 “Echoes”
21 “St. Michael’s Chapel”
22-23 “Under the Sea. I, II”
24 “Taming of the Falcon”
25 “Supreme Sacrifice”
26 “Life and Art”
27 “Sympathy”
28 “Dreaming Castle”
29 “To R.W.E.”
30-37 “Symphonic Studies (after Robert Schumann). Prelude, I, II, III, IV, V, VI, Epilogue”
38 “City Visions”
40 “Long Island Sound”
41-49 Translated Sonnets:
Page 41 “Art the Redeemer”
Page 42 “From the French of François Copp(é”
Pages 44-49 “Six Sonnets from the Studies of Petrarch
a. “In Vita LXVII”
b. “In Vita LXXVI”
c. “In Morte XLIII”
d. “In Morte II. On the Death of Cardinal Colonna and Laura”
e. “In Vita CIX”
f. “In Vita, CV”
50 “1492”
51 “Restlessness”
52 “Child at the Bath. R. de K. G.”
54 “Autumn Sadness”
56 “Song. Venus”
57 “From the Arabian Nights”
58 “Reed Song”
59 “Moonlight, from German of Eichendorff”
60 “Songs from Eichendroff”
61 “Lida and the Swan. Faust. Part II. Act II. Scene 2”
62-72 “Phaon”
73 “To the Moon after Sunrise”
75-79 “Fragments from Petrarch”
Page 75 “Canzone XII. 5”
Page 76 “Trionfo Della Morte”
Page 77 “Trionfo D’Amore”
Page 78 “Triumph of Death”
80 “Sunrise”
85 “To Nelly [?] Sleeping”
89-97 “The Creation of Man. Miwk [Mohawk] Fable”
98-105 “The New Cupid. From the German of Goethe”
106-111 “August Moon”
112-115 “My Goddess. From the German of Goethe”
116-119 “The Old Year-1883. Affectionately dedicated to W.S.P. & W.A.P.”
120 “Ariel and Euphorion” [clippings pasted into notebook, unknown journal]
122 “Don Rafael” [clippings pasted into notebook, unknown journal]
122 “Two Sonnets” [clippings pasted into notebook, unknown journal]:
“Sonnet I. Petrarch: To a Friend”
“Sonnet II. Art, the Redeemer”
123 “The New Ezekiel” [clippings pasted into notebook, unknown journal]
123 “The Choice” [clippings pasted into notebook, for The American Hebrew]
123 “The Supreme Sacrifice” [clippings pasted into notebook, for The American Hebrew]
123 “Zulieka. Translated from Goethe’s “West Gestliche Divan” [clippings pasted into notebook, unknown journal, most possibly in Jewish Messenger]
124 “The World’s Justice” [clippings pasted into notebook, unknown journal]
124 “The Feast of Lights” [clippings pasted into notebook, for The American Hebrew]
126-130 “Grotesque”
131-136 “Translations from Coppé”
137-149 [“By the Waters of Babylon”] “Little Poems in Prose:
Page 137 “I. The Exodus”
Page 140 “II. Treasures”
Page 141 “III. The Sower”
Page 143 “IV. The Test”
Page 144 “V. The Prophet”
Page 146-147 Pages are blank in the original
Page 148 “VI. Currents”
Page 149 “VII. Chrysalis”
150 “Gifts”
152 “A Masque of Venice”
156 “To Carmen Sylva” [Page 156 is followed by 159, with no gaps in poetry]
161-163 “In a Gothic Church” (never completed)

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1 3 Translation of Heine's "Easter Song" undated
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1 4 Letters undated, 1876

a. To William M.F. Round, prison reformer, acknowledging with thanks a check for $20, very possibly in payment of a charitable contribution, May 9, 1876
b. To Reverend W.H. Ward, describing the historical background of “Raschi in Prague,” undated

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1 5 Poem untitled, 1877
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1 6 Scribner's Monthly Illustrated Magazine September 1880, June 1881

a. September 1880 includes Lazarus’ poem “The Guardian of the Red Disk,” p. 695
b. June 1881 includes Lazarus’ poem "Sic Semper Liberatoribus! March 13, 1881," p. 178, on the attack by the "White Czar," p. 178

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1 7 The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine (formerly Scribner’s), vol. 24, no. 1 May 1882

Includes her "Russian Christianity vs. Modern Judaism," pp. 48-56, about the pogrom, a reply to an article in the April issue which defended the Russian side.

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1 8 Special Printing of "The New Colossus" undated
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1 9 Responses to Emma Lazarus Memorial Issue of The American Hebrew 1887, 1905

a. “To the Memory of Emma Lazarus,” by S. Morais, in Hebrew, undated
b. “The Dead Singer,” by Allen Eastman Cross, undated
c. “Emma Lazarus,” by M.J. Savage, undated
d. Claude G. Montefiore, letter, stating Emma’s death will cause a great loss in American Judaism, November 7, 1887
e. Editorial office of The Atlantic Monthly, Boston, note regretting that the writer cannot comply with the request, November 21, 1887
f. John Hay, letter, calling her early death “an irreparable loss to American Literature,” November 26, 1887
g. Helen Gray Cone, letter, thanking the editor for the opportunity of paying a “trifling tribute to the noble memory of Emma Lazarus,” November 26, 1887
h. Charles A. Dana, ed. of New York Sun, letter, saying he had conversations with her on "literature, philosophy, and universal religion"; "narrowness and bigotry were unknown to her nature," "To the courage and logic of a man she added the delicate and varying subtlety of a womanly intelligence," November 26, 1887
i. Julian Hawthorne, letter, regretting that the writer did not have the “privilege of Miss Emma Lazarus’s acquaintance,” November 27, 1887
j. “A First Visit to the Poet,” Mary M. Cohen, November 27, 1887
k. “Emma Lazarus,” John G. Whittier, November 28, 1887
l. Joseph B. Gilder, letter, stating that "morally as well as intellectually, she moved on a decidedly higher plane than the average man or woman whom one meets in cultivated society," November 28, 1887
m. Jeannette L. Gilder, letter, sending the editor some lines she wrote about Emma in the Boston Gazette, November 28, 1887
n. E.L. Godkin, letter, describing Emma’s "masculine vigor" in defense of the "Jewish race," November 29, 1887
o. John Burroughs, letter, regretting that he is unable to comply with the request to contribute to the memorial issue, and says Emma had “this trait of great minds-generosity. She was broad, sincere, and charitable,” November 30, 1887
p. Maurice Thompson, letter, stating Emma wrote with “the fire of a born poet,” December 1, 1887
q. Charles Dudley Warner, letter, writing of Emma’s personal and literary qualities, December 3, 1887
r. Mary Mapes Dodge, letter, writing of Emma’s influence as a “vital power of beneficence and light,” December 4, 1887
s. Mariam Del Banco, letter, enclosing a poem for publication, December 4, 1887
t. Charles de Kay:
1) Letter, enclosing his contribution to the memorial issue for Emma for The American Hebrew, December 5, 1887
2) “To Emma Lazarus,” Charles de Kay, undated
3) Letter, commenting on neglect of art and literature by Jews and the Jews monarchial religion, February 9, 1889
u. J.B. Gilder, letter, enclosing a poem for publication, December 6, 1887
v. Edmund C. Stedman, cover letter and letter to the editor for publication, describes Lazarus as not Orthodox, but a "modern Theist" and very dedicated to the Jewish "race," December 7, 1887
w. M.J. Savage, letter, asking for more copies of the memorial issue, December 17, 1887
x. George William Curtis, letter, declining the invitation to contribute, December 27, 1887
y. G.W. Cable, letter, saying “that she was the worthy daughter of a race to which the Christian world owes a larger debt of gratitude, incurred from the days of Abraham until now, and from which it should ask more forgiveness, than to and from any other people that ever trod the earth,” December 30, 1887
z. Mary A. Dodge, letter, stating she had just received the request dated November 25, 1887, August 16, 1888
aa. Frances Hellman, letter, declining at this time to publish in The American Hebrew, September 17, 1995
bb. Richard Watson Gilder, “To Emma Lazarus: 1905,” November 15, 1905

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1 10 Scrapbook undated, 1887, 1904

a. Presented by Mrs. Julius B. Wolff. Contains newspaper articles from the memorial issue of The American Hebrew, obituaries and Emma’s poetry.

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1 11 Article on Emma Lazarus, The Century Magazine, vol. 7 October 1888

A reproduction of the original article, which includes a portrait.

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1 12 Philip Cowen Correspondence 1884, 1934

a. Emma Lazarus to Cowen, a transcription on Cowen’s stationary, thanking him for books he sent her, July 19, 1884. [Includes a note of Emma Lazarus items donated by Cowen to the Schwadron Collection at Hebrew University]
b. A.S.W. Rosenbach to Cowen, letter, regarding Cowen’s donation to the Hebrew University of Emma Lazarus material, May 17, 1934

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1 13 AJHS Correspondence 1987

a. Nathan M. Kaganoff, AJHS Librarian, to the Library at Huntington Library, asking for material contained in the Samuel L.M. Barlow Collection concerning Emma Lazarus, March 19, 1987
b. Lita Garcia, Library Assistant at Huntington Library, enclosing copies of catalogue cards, April 10, 1987

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