La Liberté éclairant le monde
Liberty Enlightening the World
The Statue of Liberty is a colossal neoclassical sculpture standing on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. The copper statue is a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States.
La Liberté éclairant le monde was designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. Gustave Eiffel built the riveted steel framework.
Liberty Enlightening the World was dedicated on October 28, 1886.
Lady Liberty holds a torch above her head with her right hand. In her left hand, she carries a tablet inscribed JULY IV MDCCLXXVI in Roman numerals – July 4, 1776 – the date of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. A broken shackle and chain lie at her feet.
The Statue of Liberty is a universally recognized symbol of the United States. Her torch of liberty held high to enlighten the world is a welcoming beacon of freedom and hope to all immigrants arriving in America by sea.
The idea of presenting a monument from the people of France to the people of the United States was first proposed by Édouard René de Laboulaye, president of the French Anti-Slavery Society, to sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi in an after dinner conversation at Laboulaye’s home near Versailles in 1865.
When sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi arrived in the United States, and saw Bedloe’s Island (now named Liberty Island) in New York harbor, he knew right away it was the perfect place for La Liberté éclairant le monde.
Every vessel arriving in New York would sail right by the statue of Liberty Enlightening the World. The island was owned by the United States government for harbor defense, so he knew it was “land common to all the states.”
Raising funds to erect the Statue of Liberty began in 1882.
Poet Emma Lazarus was asked to write a poem, but initially she declined, stating she could not write a poem about a statue. Eventually, she wrote the sonnet that includes these iconic words that are forever identified with the Statue of Liberty.
“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 tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
In 1884, Governor of New York, Grover Cleveland, vetoed a bill to provide $50,000 for the Statue of Liberty project. In 1885, a bill in Congress to provide $100,000 for the project was voted down. The New York committee had only $3,000 in the bank, so it suspended work on the project.
Groups from Boston and Philadelphia, offered to pay the full cost of erecting the statue . . . in return for relocating it away from New York.
Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the New York World newspaper, announced a public fund drive to raise $100,000 to complete the project.
When Pulitzer’s newspaper began receiving notes and letters from ordinary citizens sending small donations for the Statue of Liberty fund, he published them in his newspaper. New Yorkers were delighted, and contributions poured in from all over the United States.
A kindergarten class in Davenport, Iowa, mailed the New York World a gift of $1.35. “A young girl alone in the world” donated “60 cents, the result of self denial.” A group of children sent a dollar as “the money we saved to go to the circus with.”
One donor gave “five cents as a poor office boy’s mite toward the Pedestal Fund.” Another dollar was given by a “lonely and very aged woman.”
Residents of a home in Brooklyn for recovering alcoholics donated $15. More money came in from donation boxes in bars and saloons.
Donations flooded in. Work resumed on the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World.
On June 17, 1885, the French steamer Isère arrived in New York, loaded heavy with crates piled high on deck, holding the riveted steel frame and disassembled copper statue. Hundreds of boats filled New York harbor to welcome the ship, and 200,000 New Yorkers lined the docks.
On August 11, 1885, after five months of collecting donations for the Statue of Liberty fund, the New York World announced that $102,000 had been contributed by 120,000 donors from all over the United States. The average donation was 85 cents.
A dedication ceremony was held on the afternoon of October 28, 1886. U.S. President Grover Cleveland, former governor of New York, presided over the event.
Only invited guests were permitted on the island during the dedication ceremonies. No members of the public were allowed.
Dignitaries made speeches applauding Liberty as a woman, and dutifully advocated for women’s right to vote. However, women were not allowed to attend the dedication, except for sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s wife, and the granddaughter of Ferdinand de Lesseps, builder of the Suez Canal in 1869, and the Panama Canal in the 1880s.
Area women suffragists were incensed, of course, and chartered a boat to watch the dedication. Take that, you hypocrites.
The Cleveland Gazette, an African American newspaper, ran an article, beginning, “Liberty enlightening the world, indeed!” and suggested that Lady Liberty’s torch should not be lit until the United States “in reality” becomes a truly free nation.
Seems we still have some work to do.
My French teacher in graduate school was Vasile Posteucă, a Romanian man who served as a soldier in the Spanish “División Azul” of the German army in Russia in 1941-1942. Really.
For most of the Second World War, he was a prisoner in the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany.
I can hear him say, “presque bien, almost good . . . plenty of room for improvement here.”
God bless you, my friend.