Women of Valor


Literary Lions

Emma Lazarus, 1849 - 1887

Emma Lazarus moved comfortably in New York's elite social and artistic circles. She was a fixture at her good friends the Gilders' famous Friday night salons. Recalling one of those nights, Lazarus wrote, "Helena's 'Friday Evngs.' grow more & more brilliant- last Friday she had about 50 people, literary, artistic, social 'lions' of all kinds."

Lazarus's correspondents included many American intellectual figures of the day, and their letters to her are marked with deep respect. E.C. Stedman, who was one of the most influential poets and critics of the time, thanked her for a recent critique, remarking, "There is no opinion I value more than that of one whom I recognize as a true artist, as a genuine member of my own guild."

Her busy European travels also put her in contact with luminaries like Robert Browning and William Morris. As Henry James wrote her, "You appear to have done more in three weeks than any lightfooted woman before; when you ate or slept I have not yet made definite."

Lazarus' social life was filled with cultural events. With her friends she shared concerts, plays, and galleries, and constantly discussed literature. Her letters home from overseas are full of exuberant experiences, "drinking in with every sense the spirit of the antique world and the beauty of life." As she wrote, "My own curiosity and interest are insatiable."

  1. For Lazarus' quote on the Gilders, see Emma Lazarus, "My dear Rose," 29 January 1884 in Young 199.
  2. On the Gilders' Friday nights see John Arthur, The Best Years of the Century: Richard Watson Gilder, ScribnerÂ’s Monthly and Century Magazine, 1870-1909 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981) 2.
  3. For the quote from E.C. Stedman see his letter to Lazarus, 2 January 1885 in Letters to Emma Lazarus in the Columbia University Library 28. On E.C. Stedman's reputation see Young 272.
  4. James' quote is from Henry James, "Dear Miss Lazarus," 5 February 1884 in Young 212-3.
  5. Quotes from Lazarus' letters home from Europe to her friend Helena deKay Gilder can be found in: "My dear Helena (& Richard!)," 23 February 1886 in Young 144 and "My dear Helena," 29 June 1886 in Young 155.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Emma Lazarus - Literary Lions." (Viewed on April 23, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/lazarus/literary-lions>.