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Woman restored the importance and legacy of Statue of Liberty with a poem for immigrants

A woman named Georgina Schuyler played a crucial role in campaigning to include Emma Lazarus’ poem, "The New Colossus," on the statue, restoring the statue's importance.

Woman restored the importance and legacy of Statue of Liberty with a poem for immigrants
Image Source: (L) Pexels | Pizabay; (R) National Park Service

A woman named Georgina Schuyler played a pivotal role in the campaign to include Emma Lazarus’ poem, "The New Colossus," on the Statue of Liberty. Her efforts had far-reaching significance. Not only did they help to contest the biases of nativism and commemorate Lazarus' memory, but they also restored the importance of the Statue of Liberty itself.

However, it is not widely discussed how Schuyler solely saved the statue from irrelevance, according to Smithsonian Magazine. She gave it a new identity that would survive for ages.


The statue came to the U.S. on October 28, 1886, as a gift from the French to symbolize the friendship between the two nations. Thus, the U.S. accepted Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi’s statue called, "Liberty Enlightening the World." However, the huge statue did not always evoke awe, as a British Journalist said, “America did not want the statue. She took it because it was offered,” per the NY Times.


It was designed as a lighthouse, but its lights were too dim to be useful and it could not be seen by ships coming from away. It was even worse when there was a fog. As it was 305 feet, it was the tallest statue in the city and a menace to the birds. It was observed in October 1888, when hundreds of birds died of what was called the Statue of Liberty’s "circle of light." The magazine, "Scientific American" even titled the event as, “Slaughter of Birds by the Statue of Liberty.”


In the 1890s, the neglect around the statue increased manifold. "Disgraceful,” the New York Times wrote in an 1895 editorial. At this time, the statue was “of no importance whatever." However, Schuyler had always been interested in preserving valuable monuments. She also wanted to memorialize her friend Lazarus. She was also concerned about the anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant tide in America.

In New York, smallpox raids were being conducted in immigrant localities. Besides that, anti-immigrant laws were being passed which inspired Schuyler’s campaign to include Lazarus’ poem on the statue.


Schuyler received help from her friend, Richard Watson Gilder, who was an activist and editor of the widely respected Century magazine, which had published Lazarus’ work. She was making all possible efforts to get the plaque on the statue. The plaque was finally installed on May 5, 1903, and it was widely covered by the media. In an article about this event, the New York Times wrote that the Statue of Liberty is, “a symbol for a land where the downtrodden and despised have found a chance to develop their own careers.” 


Schuyler's dream finally came true as World War I would make the U.S. demand loyalty from even immigrants. “The statue became a focal point for campaigns to promote immigrant loyalty,” wrote historian David Glassberg. Since then, the number of visitors to the statue has just kept increasing every year. Moreover, many Americans have grown up with the notion of lady liberty. It all happened how Lazarus manifested and how Schuyler made it possible for everyone to witness it.

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