Statue of Liberty Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Originally intended to symbolize the concept of liberty in the French and American revolutions, during the twentieth century the Statue of Liberty would increasingly come to represent the possibility of new life in America for all immigrants passing by her, and the vision of America as a multicultural society strong because of its diversity.

The Statue of Liberty came to connect with the immigrant experience in two specific ways. Most directly and immediately, for all the millions passing into the United States through Ellis Island at the port of New York City, the statue’s towering presence (305 feet high from the ground to the top of her torch) would have been an unforgettable image and symbol of the new land they were entering, at a moment when their expectations and anticipations were raised high after a long and perhaps difficult journey.Statue of LibertyStatue of Liberty[cat]PUSH-PULL FACTORS;Statue of Liberty[cat]PHILANTHROPY;Statue of Liberty[cat]SYMBOLS;Statue of Liberty

Before the Statue of Liberty was erected on what is now called Liberty Island, it was assembled in Manhattan. Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, the French sculptor who designed the statue, is shown in the cameo inset.

(Library of Congress)

Even more significant, in the long run, would be the influence of a poem written in 1883 as a donation to a charity event raising money to pay for the pedestal upon which the Statue of Liberty would stand. For that auction, Lazarus, EmmaEmma Lazarus, an American-born Jew and recognized member of the New York literati, contributed “The New Colossus,”New Colossus, The" (Lazarus)[New Colossus (Lazarus)]” a sonnet that would become one of the poems most widely memorized by American schoolchildren of the twentieth century. The poem alludes to the Statue of Liberty as the “Mother of Exiles.” In its famous closing lines, Lazarus has the statue address the world directly, offering needy immigrants shelter, succor, and, most powerfully, the opportunity “to breathe free.”

Lazarus herself became a strong advocate for Russian immigrants;JewsRussian Jews fleeing pogroms and persecutions in their homeland, but she died of Hodgkin’s disease at the age of thirty-eight on November 19, 1887, just over one year after the Statue of Liberty was dedicated. As a tribute to her in 1903, friends succeeded in having a plaque inscribed with “The New Colossus” and the poem placed inside the statue’s pedestal itself, where visitors to the statue could read and reflect. That plaque has remained a significant component of the Statue of Liberty museum today.

During the 1930’s, Adamic, LouisLouis Adamic and other writers and public speakers who championed America’s pluralism helped promote the connection between the image of the Statue of Liberty and the ideas in “The New Colossus.” Adamic recited the poem in radio addresses, reaching millions of listeners. With the advent of World War II, the idea of the great statue as a “Mother of Exiles” took on even deeper resonance for those fleeing totalitarian regimes and the Holocaust in Europe.

In 1965, Ellis Island;and Statue of Liberty[Statue of Liberty]Ellis Island, the former entry site for millions of nineteenth and twentieth century immigrants, was incorporated into the nearby Statue of Liberty National Monument. In 1984, in preparation for the 1986 centennial celebration of the Statue of Liberty, the United Nations named the statue a World Heritage site.Statue of Liberty

Further Reading
  • Moreno, Barry. The Statue of Liberty. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 2004.
  • _______. The Statue of Liberty Encyclopedia. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.
  • Schor, Esther. Emma Lazarus. New York: Schocken, 2006.

Cultural pluralism

Ellis Island

European immigrants

History of immigration after 1891

The Immigrant

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

New York City

Pulitzer, Joseph

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