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The Mother of Exiles

by Lynne Belluscio

Now that Lady Liberty is back

in LeRoy, I’m getting ready to

put together an exhibit about her.

Last week you read that I need to

find a couple of 1950s Boy Scout

uniforms. (Haven’t heard from

anyone yet.)

But now I’m reading about the

Statue of Liberty in the New York

Harbor. I’ll be sharing some of

the history in the next couple of

weeks. Most of us are aware of

the lines from the poem: “Give me

your tired, your poor, your hud-

dled masses yearning to breathe

free . . . ” The words are from “The

New Colossus.” But I never knew

that it was written by a Jewish

woman in an effort to raise money

to build the base.

France had agreed to build the

statue and to present it to the Unit-

ed States, under the condition that

Americans would raise enough

money to build the base. Joseph

Pulitzer, the noted newspaper-

man, was afraid that the money

couldn’t be raised, so he contacted

American writers, includingMark

Twain, Walt Whitman, and Emma

Lazarus and asked them to write

poems which would be auctioned

to raise money.

Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The

NewColossus” brought the highest

bid of $1,500. It was the only poem

read at the 1883 fund-raiser. Three

years later, the money had been

raised, the base had been built,

and the statue was shipped from

France and erected.

But sadly, a year lat-

er, Emma Lazarus

died at the age of

34, of Hodgkin’s

disease. Her story is

very interesting.

Emma Lazarus

was born in 1849

in New York City.

He r f ami l y was

very wealthy and

her ancestors had

arrived in America

many years before

the Revolution. She

was well educated

and enjoyed writing.

But she was well

aware of the pov-

erty in New York,

particularly of the

European Jewish


She visitedWard’s

Island in New York

Harbor and became an active

member of the Hebrew Immigrant

Aid Society. When she wrote the

poem (actually it’s a sonnet) she

focused attention on the plight of

the millions of immigrants coming

through the New York Harbor.

She called the statue the “Mother

of Exiles.” It was Emma’s words

that welcomed people to this land

of liberty and freedom.

Twenty years after Emma’s

death, her words were engraved on

a bronze plaque and placed in the

entrance to the statue. Ten years

later, her words were included

in school books and memorized.

(Now forgotten.) Sixty years later,

in 1949, her words were used by

the composer, Irving Berlin, and

the song was sung on Broadway.

I hope to find a choral group to

perform the Irving Berlin song - - I

think it is more like a hymn - - at

the dedication in July.

If you are not familiar with

Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, here it is:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of

Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride

from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset

gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch,

whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and

her name

Strengthen the Arm of Liberty - these folks rented a Statue of Liberty tie for the night at LeRoy House and

raised $300 to help restore LeRoy’s Statue of Liberty.

Mother of Exiles. From her


Glows world-wide welcome; her

mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin

cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your

storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your

tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to

breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your

teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless,

tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden