Emma Lazarus, 1849 - 1887
When Emma Lazarus died at the age of thirty-eight, she left behind a rich legacy. Memorial issues of both The Critic and American Hebrew were filled with tributes to her. John Hay mourned that her early death was not only an, "affliction to those of her own race and kindred," but also "an irreparable loss to American literature." Lazarus was one of the first renowned Jewish writers in American literary history.
She was also an important forerunner of the Zionist movement. Lazarus argued for the creation of a Jewish homeland thirteen years before Herzl began to use the term Zionism. Her "Epistle to the Hebrews" was reprinted by the Federation of American Zionists in 1900. As Henrietta Szold wrote in American Hebrew, "With her own hand she has sown the seeds that shall transform her grave into a garden..."
The memory of Emma Lazarus has continued to inspire activists throughout the years. The "New Colossus" itself is the quintessential statement for immigrant rights and freedom. The Emma Lazarus Federation of Jewish Woman's Clubs is another example of her influence. From 1951 to 1989, members of this organization fought anti-Semitism and racism while celebrating Jewish culture and striving to provide, "leadership to women in the Jewish communities in our time in the same spirit as Emma Lazarus did in hers."
- For John Hay's remarks, see American Hebrew 33 (Dec. 9, 1887): 6.
- On Lazarus as Zionist forerunner, see Charles Angoff, Emma Lazarus, Poet, Jewish Activist, Pioneer Zionist (New York: Jewish Historical Society of New York, 1979) and also Young 9.
- For Henrietta Szold's quote, see American Hebrew 5.
- The Emma Lazarus Federation's quote is cited in Joyce Antler, The Journey Home: Jewish Women and the American Century (New York: The Free Press, 1997) 251. See Antler also for general information on the Federation.