The Statue of Liberty is an icon, a national treasure, and one of the most recognizable figures in the world. Each year millions who cherish its ideals make the journey to experience its history and grandeur in person. Most visitors, in part because Ellis Island is close by, see the Statue as a symbol of freedom, inspiration, and hope for successive waves of immigrants to the U.S. But they would be shocked to learn that the Statue originally had nothing to do with immigration. It was, rather, an extraordinary gift from the people of France to the people of the United States to commemorate the centennials of the American (1776) and French (1789) Revolutions, as well as celebrate the close relationship between the two countries.
In this class, historian Edward O’Donnell will tell the story of how a French reformer named Édouard de Laboulaye conceived of the idea, how sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi created the monumental structure, and how it almost ended up somewhere in the U.S. other than New York harbor. Along the way, he’ll explain how the Statue was gradually transformed into an immigration icon and a very powerful and pliable political symbol.