After the death of her famous sister Emma, Josephine Lazarus emerged as a writer and activist in her own right. Descended from the first Jews to settle in the US, Josephine Lazarus came of age in the wealthy and cultured Sephardic community of New York and was educated in languages, literature, music, and art alongside her five sisters. For years, she focused her efforts on caring for her parents, siblings, and her orphaned nieces. Her first publication was a memorial essay for her sister Emma Lazarus, followed by a series of literary biographies of contemporary women writers. In 1893 she spoke at the Congress of Religions at the Chicago World’s Fair, later expanding her ideas into The Spirit of Judaism, her first book, in 1895. In her writing, Lazarus advocated nonsectarian ethical humanism that would combine the best of Judaism and Christianity, with Jews fully assimilating into society but bringing their rich spiritual tradition with them. Her views were shaken, however, by widespread anti–Semitism in the wake of the Dreyfus Affair. In her later essays she struggled to incorporate her vision of a universal humanism with the need for Jews to have a homeland and political autonomy.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Josephine Lazarus." (Viewed on December 10, 2019) <https://jwa.org/people/lazarus-josephine>.