overview

Many New York City public schools are named in honor of prominent figures in American and world history.

Emma Lazarus High School for English Language Scholars, in Manhattan, inadvertently honors an LGBT individual.

Header Photo
Credit: Google Maps, 2023.

History

Many New York City public schools are named in honor of prominent figures in American and world history. The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project compiled a list of the public schools named after gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals, although only one — Harvey Milk High School — intentionally honors an LGBT individual. This list includes Emma Lazarus High School for English Language Scholars in Manhattan.

Born into a prominent Sephardic Jewish New York family, poet, author, and activist Emma Lazarus (1849–1887) is best known for her poem “The New Colossus,” which was written in 1883 for a fundraising effort to build a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. Her now-famous words “Give me your tired, your poor/ your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” were not physically attached to the Statue of Liberty until 1903, over 15 years after her death. Lazarus was one of the first highly visible and successful Jewish American authors, and she also became an activist for Jewish causes.

She never married, and there is evidence that she was fascinated by women in her social and political circles in same-sex partnerships, then sometimes called “Boston marriages.” Biographer Esther Schor writes that clues to the poet’s identity can be found in the poem “Assurance,” which is not “about choosing a lover; it is about being chosen by desire — erotic desire, and for the body and soul of a woman.”

Other sites on this website associated with Lazarus are Emma Lazarus Public School 268 and Emma Lazarus Memorial Plaque.

Entry by Jay Shockley, project director (December 2023).

NOTE: Names above in bold indicate LGBT people.

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: Warner, Burns, Toan & Lunde
  • Year Built: 1983

Sources

  1. Carl Rollyson, “Restoring Lazarus,” New York Sun, September 13, 2006, bit.ly/3cGKlTc.

  2. Esther Schor, Emma Lazarus (New York: Schocken, 2006).

  3. Julie R. Enszer, “On Emma Lazarus’s ‘The New Colossus’,” Poetry Society, bit.ly/36EfS4C.

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