From Sitting Room to Soapbox: Emma Lazarus, Union Square and American Identity

October 6, 2022
by Melanie Meyers

The Relationship between Union Square, and Jewish Activism

AJHS is delighted to announce that our newest exhibition, From Sitting Room to Soapbox: Emma Lazarus, Union Square and American Identity, is now open and will be on view through the spring of 2023.

This exhibition discusses the development of Union Square through the lens of the Jewish activists who used the Square as an impromptu lectern for their speeches. Among the topics featured are the growth of organized labor, activism on behalf of women’s suffrage and reproductive freedom, as well as the evolution of new political ideas such as socialism, which were all topics debated on the soapboxes of Union Square.

These larger themes are also explored by showcasing the stories of Jewish activists, many of them women, who rallied their fellow workers and staged demonstrations. The final panel explores Union Square today, with photos of the space now and commentary from The Union Square Partnership. The content and narrative overall are illustrated using photos and materials from archival collections, discussing the activists who gave lively speeches in Union Square and passionately advocated for new ideas about freedom, American identity, and the expansion of rights for all.

There will also be public programs to further explore the themes and concepts in the exhibition. We were pleased to present a day-long symposium on Jews in the Gilded Age, which took place on October 2; this program was made possible by the generous support of Leonard L. Milberg, in Honor of Harold T. Shapiro, and featured a full day of talks and sessions to explore this captivating historic period. These sessions are available to view via the AJHS YouTube channel, for those who were unable to attend in-person. Later in October, please join us for a program presented in partnership with Village Preservation, who will discuss their efforts to preserve history through landmarking and public education. We hope you will join us in exploring this fascinating history of the neighborhood that surrounds us, and how this history is still being created over a century later. 

Additionally, AJHS has on view an exhibition called Emma’s Sitting Room, which is an immersive exhibition that recreates what the sitting room of Emma Lazarus would have looked like during her prolific career, while she and her family lived in the immediate Union Square vicinity. We at AJHS invite you to come and experience these tandem exhibitions, and enjoy one of the public programs that adds additional content and perspectives to the collection materials showcased. 

This exhibition and the programs offered have been made possible by the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the David Berg Foundation, and The Center for Jewish History.  

View all past and upcoming programs and register today!