overview

Many New York City public parks and playgrounds are named in honor of prominent figures in New York City and American history. In addition, there are memorials that honor LGBT individuals.

Emma Lazarus Memorial Plaque, in Manhattan’s Battery Park, inadvertently honors an LGBT individual.

Header Photo
Courtesy of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.

History

Many New York City public parks and playgrounds are named in honor of prominent figures in New York City and American history. The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project compiled a list of public parks and playgrounds named after gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals, several of which intentionally honor an LGBT individual. In addition, there are memorials that honor LGBT individuals. This list includes the Emma Lazarus Memorial Plaque, in Manhattan.

This memorial plaque, dedicated in 1955 and located west of Castle Clinton in Battery Park, celebrates Emma Lazarus (1849–1887) as “poet-patriot” and author of “The New Colossus.” It also inadvertently honors her LGBT history. Born into a prominent Sephardic Jewish New York family, poet, author, and activist Lazarus 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.”

This plaque was donated by the Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations.

Sources

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

  2. “Emma Lazarus Memorial Plaque,” NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, on.nyc.gov/3lVup2o.

  3. Esther Schor, Emma Lazarus (New York: Penguin Random House, 2006).

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

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