Emma Lazarus, Union Square, and American Identity
An exhibit exploring the relationship between Union Square and the development of American political culture.
On View: September 2, 2022 to June 20, 2023
The history of Union Square is a fascinating one, as the Square has evolved in use and purpose over the 180-plus years since its founding.
While Union Square was developed in the 1840s as a park to attract well-to-do New York property owners and investors, (such as Emma Lazarus’s family), the central location of the park also quickly made it a popular choice for soapbox speakers, union organizers, and activists of all political persuasions. Victoria Woodhull and Emma Goldman are just a sampling of the orators and activists who spoke to the crowds at Union Square, and many a march and rally used the Square as a location for meetings and demonstrations.
Women’s suffrage, organized labor, and new political movements all organized events and marches using Union Square as a backdrop, often drawing crowds of thousands of fellow New Yorkers. What these disparate political movements and participants shared was a deep belief in the evolution of the American identity and spirit, and a mutual commitment to improving the lives of their fellow citizens; the topics discussed in the Square, which are reflected in the AJHS collections and explored in this exhibition, are drawn from these animated discussions about the evolving nature of American identity, and how these activists believed American life and identity would continually advance to represent that promised ideal of “the more perfect union.”
Come and explore these fascinating stories with us, and learn about the history of this important New York City landmark.