Emma Lazarus, born in New York City, was one of seven children whose family had immigrated to the United State from Portugal back in Colonial times. Emma studied British and American literature from an early age. Her writing was good enough to attract the attention of Ralph Waldo Emerson who corresponded with her until his death.
Emma became more interested in her Jewish ancestry when she read about the Russian pogroms and anti-Semetic violence which followed the assassination of Czar Alexander II. In response to the violence, Emma wrote Songs of a Semite in 1882. Ahead of her time, Emma talked about a Jewish homeland thirteen years before the term Zionism was coined by Theodor Herzl.
In 1883, Emma wrote the poem "The New Colussus" and donated it to the fund to build a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. The lines of the sonnet appear on a bronze plaque on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, mounted in 1903.
Sadly, she passed away prematurely at 38, likely of Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Note: Here is a link to the famous poem "The New Colossus":