Receiving a private education she showed her poetic ability in her first book of verse.
From an early age, she studied American and British literature, as well as several languages, including German, French, and Italian.
Poems and Translations, published when she was seventeen. It brought her to the attention of Ralph Waldo Emerson, with whom she had an extended correspondence. Her second book of verse, Admetus and Other Poems, (1871), contained one poem on a Jewish theme, “In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport.” This poem was reprinted in the American Hebrew newspaper, which subsequently carried her translations of Solomon Ibn Gabirol and Judah Halevi.
In the late 1870s she began to feel more a part of the Jewish community, and Rabbi Gustav Gottheil of Temple Emanu-El persuaded her to translate and write poetry fora new prayer book which he was preparing. William James once wrote to Lazarus, “The power of playing with thought and language... ought to be the overflowing of a life rich in other ways.” What became the “overflowing” in Lazarus’s life were her experiences with the Jewish refugees streaming to New York from eastern Europe. The anguish of her people brought Lazarus into the mainstream of efforts to aid the homeless Jews.
She devoted much of the short remainder of her life to the cause of Jewish nationalism.
She is an important forerunner of the Zionist movement. She argued for the creation of a Jewish homeland thirteen years before Theodor Herzl began to use the term Zionism. Lazarus is buried in Beth-Olom Cemetery in Brooklyn.
Emma Lazarus was honored by the Office of the Manhattan Borough President in March 2008 and her home on West 10th Street was included in a map of Women's Rights Historic Sites.
The Statue of liberty on the base of which is inscribed Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colosus:”
Not like the Brazen Giant of Greek fame.
With conquering limbs astride from land to land:
Here at our sea-washed sunset gales shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand 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 Door!”
The indelible mark she left on Jewish and general history came through a sonnet she penned for the new Statue of Liberty to be placed in New York Harbor. In 1883 efforts were being made to construct a pedestal for the statue, a gift of the French people, which was to reach the United States in 1885. An auction was planned to sell manuscripts by Longfellow, Walt Whitman, Bret Harte, and Mark Twain. Lazarus was also asked to contribute. Although at first hesitant, she penned a sonnet entitled “The New Colossus."
Quotes from others about the person
“When the poet James Russell Lowell read her verses, he wrote "I liked your sonnet about the Statue better than I liked the Statue itself. But your sonnet gives its subject a raison d’etre which it needed as much as it needed a pedestal.””