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On the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France, there are words we know so well: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.
Native-born Americans can hardly know what the statue meant, and still means, to folk who once were strangers within our gates.
A letter to the editor published the following day asked why Robbins hadn’t mentioned Lazarus. Over the next few years, Slovenian-American author Louis Adamic became Lazarus’s posthumous champion.
To de Laboulaye, the end of American slavery was the last step in the US becoming a beacon of democracy to the world, explains George Tselos, head archivist for the statue and neighboring Ellis Island.
But Laboulaye did not include a pedestal in his gift, and the US government struggled to raise funds to mount the new statue.
He popularized the poem, ceaselessly quoting it in his writing.
By the early 1940s, an annual commemoration of Lazarus’s death was held at the foot of the statute.
By the 1930s, the number of immigrants arriving in the US had fallen dramatically. Robbins wrote about the Statue of Liberty with nostalgia for more welcoming times: To the throngs of homeless newcomers who viewed her from Castle Garden and, after 1891, from Ellis Island, she seemed a Lady Bountiful bidding them welcome to a land of freedom; a goddess indeed….
As European Jews increasingly sought refuge outside Nazi-occupied countries, the US was building up its walls. In their toll they saw her as she had awaited them at the end of their voyage, a symbol and a promise.
She grew up in New York and Newport, Rhode Island, and was educated by private tutors with whom she studied mythology, music, American poetry, European literature, German, French, and Italian.
Her father, who was a successful sugar merchant, supported her writing financially as well as emotionally.