European Immigrants arriving to New York Harbor cheered lady liberty from her unveiling in October of 1896 until the closure of the Ellis Island immigration center in 1952. A gift from France, the Statue of Liberty commemorated friendship between the two countries.
Formally named “Liberty Enlightening the World” she’s imbued with symbolism fitting for a monument to American freedom.
In the late 1800s, people across Europe emigrated from their homes to start a new life in America. According to MigrationPolicy.org, more than 20 million immigrants arrived—primarily from Southern and Eastern Europe—between 1880 and 1920. Many of the Southern European immigrants fled economic crises and famine for the perceived opportunities America offered. Others sought personal freedom from religious and political persecution.
According to the Library of Congress, while Immigrants entered the United States through several ports, “more than 70 percent first arrived through New York City, which came to be known as the Golden Door. Throughout the late 1800s, most immigrants arriving in New York entered at the Castle Garden depot near the tip of Manhattan.”
America’s first immigrant receiving center, Castle Garden processed more than 8 million immigrants until it was closed on April 18, 1890. In 1892 the new immigrant-processing center opened at Ellis Island.
On January 1, 1892, fifteen-year Annie Moore from Ireland became the first of the more than twelve million European immigrants who would pass through the doors of the Ellis Island Immigration Station.
In her first-person account at the Library of Congress she tells about her experience entering New York Harbor and seeing the celestial green-gray Statue of Liberty in a blaze of light.
“At seven o’clock our boat lifted anchor and we glided up the still waters of the harbor. The whole prow was a black mass of passengers staring at the ferryboats, the distant factories, and skyscrapers. Every point of vantage was seized, and some scores of emigrants were clinging to the rigging. At length we came into sight of the green-grey statue of Liberty, far away and diminutive at first, but later on, a celestial figure in a blaze of sunlight. An American waved a starry flag in greeting, and some emigrants were disposed to cheer, some shed silent tears. Many, however, did not know what the statue was. I heard one Russian telling another that it was the tombstone of Columbus.
We carried our luggage out at eight, and in a pushing crowd prepared to disembark…. At a quarter to ten we steamed for Ellis Island. We were then marched to another ferryboat, and expected to be transported somewhere else, but this second vessel was simply a floating waiting room. We were crushed and almost suffocated upon it. A hot sun beat upon its wooden roof; the windows in the sides were fixed; we could not move an inch from the places where we were awkwardly standing, for the boxes and baskets were so thick about our feet; babies kept crying sadly, and irritated emigrants swore at the sound of them. All were thinking–“Shall I get through?”
Although immigrants often settled near ports of entry, a large number did find their way inland. Many states, especially those with sparse populations, actively sought to attract immigrants by offering jobs or land for farming. Many immigrants wanted to move to communities established by previous settlers from their homelands.
Massive numbers of immigration created many social tensions, including competition for too few jobs and inadequate housing. The Library of Congress writes:
“But it also produced a new vitality in the cities and states in which the immigrants settled. The newcomers helped transform American society and culture, demonstrating that diversity, as well as unity, is a source of national strength.”
Symbols Of Freedom Were Integrated Into the Statue of Liberty’s Design
Lady Liberty represented freedom and opportunity to the millions of European Immigrants she greeted at New York harbor. Following are a few of the symbols integrated into her design.
The Statue Of Liberty Greeted European Immigrants As They Entered America
Since the majority of people entered America from the East during the great migration, she faces southeast, toward the open sea like an entry door to your home. At 305ft. 1in. from the ground to the tip of the flame, she is the equivalent height of a 22-story building and readily seen from a ship. In 1886, she was the tallest structure in New York.
According to the National Park Service NPS:
“The Statue’s position was also perfect for ships, entering the harbor, to see her as a welcoming symbol.”
Her Great Torch Served As A Beacon of Liberty and Enlightenment
The torch is a symbol of enlightenment. The Statue of Liberty’s torch lights the way to freedom showing us the path to Liberty. Even the Statue’s official name represents her most important symbol “Liberty Enlightening the World”.
The Statue’s current replacement torch, added in 1986, is a copper flame covered in 24K gold. It is reflective of the sun’s rays in daytime and lighted by 16 floodlights at night. (NPS)
Her Tablet Marks The Declaration of Independence
The tablet of law, held in the Statue’s left hand, has the date of the written document of the Declaration of American Independence–July 4, 1776. It’s written in Roman numerals (July IV, MDCCLXXVI),
Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft, which was then edited by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. July 2, 1776 is the day that the Continental Congress actually voted for independence. It was not actually signed until August 2. Fifty-six delegates eventually signed the document, although all were not present on that day in August.
She Was Modeled After Classical Symbols of Liberty
Many historians say that the Statue of Liberty was modeled after Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom. She wears the classic free-flowing robe or stola, the traditional garment of Roman women and equivalent of the male toga.
Her spiked crown emulates the classical image of Helios, the Sun God. The seven points of her crown symbolize the seven seas, the seven continents and the rays of the sun. This image is meant to convey the hopeful spread of liberty. (NPS)
A Broken Chain And Shackle Lie At Her Right Foot
The chain disappears beneath the draperies, only to reappear in front of her left foot, its end link broken. According to The National Park Service, the statue as a whole symbolizes “American independence and the end of all types of servitude and oppression.”
“In 1886, The Statue of Liberty was a symbol of democratic government and Enlightenment ideals as well as a celebration of the Union’s victory in the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery. Edouard de Laboulaye, the French political thinker, U.S. Constitution expert, and abolitionist, who first proposed the idea of a great monument as a gift from France to the United States was a firm supporter of President Abraham Lincoln and his fight for abolition.”
However, although the broken shackle is a powerful image, the meaning behind it was not yet a reality for many people in 1886.
Famed Sociologist and author W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in his autobiography A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life From the Last Decade of Its First Century, that when he sailed past the Statue on a return trip from Europe, he was unable to imagine the same sense of hope he assumed many European immigrants had felt.
Law Is The Keystone Of Democracy
Lady Liberty’s tablet takes the shape of a keystone. According to National Park Service, it is an architectural stone that provides solid foundation and keeps the others together. The keystone of this nation is the based on law. “Without law, freedom and democracy would not prevail.”
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