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Wed Feb 1, 2017, 01:53 PM

' Give me your tired, your poor: The story of poet and refugee advocate Emma Lazarus

"The year was 1883 when Emma Lazarus, a young, high society New York poet and the descendant of Jewish immigrants, was asked for a favor.

Fundraising efforts were underway for a pedestal to hold the Statue of Liberty, an expensive gift from France that many Americans found especially uninspiring. The French had paid for construction of the monument, but its recipients were responsible for buying its base. This made out-of-towners scoff.

But elite writers and authors in New York went to work anyway, soliciting help from people like the 34-year-old Lazarus to reach their monetary goal. Would she compose, they asked, a sonnet to be sold at auction, alongside the writings of Mark Twain and Walt Whitman?

An undated portrait of poet Emma Lazarus. (Shearith Israel via AP)
Lazarus agreed, begrudgingly, for she didn’t write “to order.”

What the poet didn’t know at the time — as a woman whose work as a “poetess” had been at times the subject of condescension — was that it would be her words, lyrical and poignant, that decades later came to define the American vision of liberty."


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