Communicator of the Month: Emma Lazarus ― Muse of the Masses

“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” ― Emma Lazarus

Our Communicator of the Month series showcases individuals who have used communications to work for a better future. In 2014, we’re celebrating poets who have communicated social change through their meter, cadences and rhyme.

She may be best known for penning the verses that have become America’s greeting at Ellis Island, but Emma Lazarus’ impact on our society goes well beyond her poetry. Mentored by Ralph Waldo Emerson, her work tackled important social issues, such as anti-Semitism and the rights of Russian immigrants.

In 1866, she published a poetry volume at the age of 17 that caught the attention of those in fashionable society. Not satisfied with her limited success, Lazarus extended her reach by publishing in magazines, as well as writing a novel.

Toward the end of her short life, Lazarus became active in advocacy efforts. In addition to helping establish the Hebrew Technical Institute, she also participated in the formation of the Society for the Improvement and Colonization of East European Jews in 1883.

Lazarus died at the young age of 38 in 1887. Today, there is a bronze memorial tablet dedicated to her inside the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal entrance. It is inscribed with the immortal lines from her work, “The New Colossus”: “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”