Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 10. Segment 1
Lady Liberty

The woman was big. See It Now - The Completed Statue of Liberty Colossal, they called her. The biggest ever. Why, her nose was four feet long. See It Now - The Statue of Liberty's Head She had almost sunk on the voyage from Europe. Now she was in New York harbor, with no place to go. Her home wasn't ready. It was June 1885, and workmen prepared to unload 214 wooden cases which held the body of the handsome woman. She was a gift from the people of France to the people of America. She was, of course, the Statue of Liberty, and she was about to become a metaphor. The New York World had this to say: "The $250,000 that the statue cost was paid by the masses of the French people, irrespective of class or condition."

Usually metaphors are words. But this metaphor was a copper-skinned giant of a lady. She soon came to represent two things: the spirit of freedom, and America's policy of welcome to people from around the world. She was conceived at a French dinner party in 1865, where the scholarly dinner host, Edouard de Laboulaye, was talking about liberty and America. Laboulaye saw the recent Civil War, terrible as it had been, as a triumph for forces of liberty. That awful paradox—slavery in the land of the free—was no more. How could the French join with Americans to celebrate their ideal of freedom, liberty, and justice for all? Among the guests at that dinner was a sculptor named Frederic Bartholdi. See It Now - Frederic Bartholdi at Work He was swept away by the conversation. He decided to visit America.

When he sailed into New York, Bartholdi was struck by the beauty and openness of its harbor. Check The Source - Bartholdi First Sees New York Harbor He saw it as a symbol of the openness of America. In the harbor he found a small island—Bedloe's Island—and he knew almost at once that this was where he wanted his statue to stand. See It Now - The Island Site for a Statue of Liberty On Bedloe's Island he could view rivers, ocean, and land—all at the same time. Bedloe's Island belonged to the government. By now Bartholdi had a great statue in mind; he would build a statue bigger than the Colossus of Rhodes. See It Now - The Colossus of Rhodes That huge statue on the Mediterranean island of Rhodes had been built to show the power of ancient Greece. Bartholdi's woman would be a symbol of liberty and welcome, not of power.

It was the liberty-loving French people who paid for the statue. But when Lady Liberty arrived in her new home, no pedestal had been built for her, and neither Congress nor wealthy financiers seemed anxious to provide that money. What was to be done? Someone was needed to tell the story of the majestic lady and make people understand what she symbolized. A public relations genius was needed, and America just happened to have one. His name was Joseph Pulitzer. See It Now - "Joseph Pulitzer at Forty" He had come from Hungary at age seventeen. Then he became a soldier in the Civil War, and then a newspaper reporter in St. Louis. Soon he owned a paper, and then another, and then the important New York World. Pulitzer cared passionately about freedom and free government. He thought Bartholdi's statue was wonderful. He used his newspapers to tell Liberty's story and to raise money for the pedestal. Hear It Now - Joseph Pulitzer "The statue is not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America. Let us not wait for the millionaires to give this money," he said. "Let us hear from the people!" See It Now - "The Unfinished Pedestal"

A girl named Jane sent fifty cents. "I am only a poor sewing girl," she wrote. A ten-year old sent "my pocket piece—twenty cents in silver." Twelve public schools in Trenton, New Jersey, collected $105.07 from their students. All across America, people began to respond. A group of artists and writers gave their work to be auctioned to raise money for the statue. Mark Twain See It Now - Mark Twain was one of them. A thirty-four year old poet named Emma Lazarus was another. Lazarus had ancestors who came to the United States in the seventeenth century. They were Jews fleeing religious oppression in Europe. Now she was hearing about the pogroms that were sweeping Russia—mob attacks on Jews. Thousands of Jews were being killed; thousands more were coming to America. See It Now - "This Land is Your Land" Lazarus knew that there was opposition among some Americans to the new immigrants. But she also believed that America was a haven for the persecuted around the world. So she wrote a sonnet about what the Statue of Liberty meant to her. She called it "The New Colossus." Here is her poem:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates 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. Hear It Now - Emma Lazarus"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!" See It Now - The Unveiling of "The Lady"

learn more at:
© 2002 Picture History and Educational
Broadcasting Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Thirteen/WNET PBS