Sav­ing Lady Lib­er­ty: Joseph Pulitzer’s Fight for the Stat­ue of Liberty

Clau­dia Frid­dell, Sta­cy Innerst (Illus­tra­tor)

  • Review
By – July 13, 2021

While many young read­ers are famil­iar with the Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty, few know much about Joseph Pulitzer. Some adults only asso­ciate this Jew­ish-Amer­i­can news­pa­per pub­lish­er with the jour­nal­ism and arts awards bear­ing his name. Oth­ers are unaware of his con­nec­tion to the great icon of free­dom in New York Har­bor. In Sav­ing Lady Lib­er­ty, Clau­dia Frid­dell tells the sto­ry of Pulitzer’s inde­fati­ga­ble com­mit­ment to fund­ing the stat­ue. Sta­cy Innerst’s incom­pa­ra­ble artistry paints a vivid pic­ture of both the pub­lish­er as an indi­vid­ual and the times in which he lived, an era when the idea of the Unit­ed States as a nation of immi­grants became a reality.

Pulitzer’s sto­ry begins as a famil­iar tale of eco­nom­ic dis­place­ment, and also of anti­semitism. Grow­ing up in a wealthy Jew­ish fam­i­ly in Hun­gary, his father’s death and his own result­ing pover­ty led Pulitzer to seek a place in the mil­i­tary but, as Frid­dell points out, “… no army in Europe want­ed a scrawny teenag­er, near­ly blind with­out his glass­es.” It is notable that Frid­dell presents Pulitzer’s sub­se­quent deci­sion to immi­grate to the Unit­ed States and enlist in the Union Army dur­ing America’s Civ­il War as prag­mat­ic, not ide­al­is­tic. How­ev­er, anti­semitism, if only implic­it, does not dis­ap­pear from his life. Although Frid­dell notes his pride at serv­ing, she also relates the bul­ly­ing” to which gen­er­a­tions of Jew­ish-Amer­i­can sol­diers were sub­ject­ed, admit­ting that Pulitzer couldn’t wait for the Civ­il War to end.” This real­is­tic tone, one of respect for the reader’s abil­i­ty to process the truth, char­ac­ter­izes the book.

Anoth­er irony of prej­u­dice against immi­grants is the dis­tor­tion of their skills into lia­bil­i­ties. Although Pulitzer’s flu­en­cy in sev­er­al lan­guages, includ­ing French, Ger­man, and Yid­dish, might be viewed as an asset, his need to learn Eng­lish was a sig­nif­i­cant obsta­cle. The author suc­ceeds in accu­rate­ly describ­ing Pulitzer’s deter­mi­na­tion as well as his obsta­cles, with­out roman­ti­ciz­ing the process. It was clear­ly dif­fi­cult for him to work as a wait­er, a grave dig­ger, and a mule dri­ver; the hours he spent in edu­cat­ing him­self even­tu­al­ly afford­ed him oppor­tu­ni­ties. When Frid­dell refers to his brash man­ner and relent­less dri­ve,” as well as to his jour­nal­is­tic focus on uncov­er­ing cor­rup­tion, a pic­ture emerges of a tough and prin­ci­pled man, not a saint. She does use the word dream­er” to char­ac­ter­ize both Pulitzer and the French sculp­tor Auguste Barthol­di; both men saw the idea of a stat­ue hon­or­ing free­dom as a cause worth pur­su­ing. But Pulitzer was well aware that their dream might nev­er be real­ized due to lack of funds, and he set out to put his mas­sive pub­lic­i­ty machine in the ser­vice of their goal. Even­tu­al­ly, the pow­er­ful pub­lish­ing mag­nate con­vinced thou­sands of Amer­i­cans to con­tribute to bring Lib­er­ty home to New York.

Innerst’s inim­itable style evokes Pulitzer’s ener­getic cru­sade and its con­text with unfor­get­table impact. Using sepia tones mixed with care­ful­ly cho­sen col­ors for con­trast, he sets the hero of the sto­ry in a beau­ti­ful­ly doc­u­ment­ed past. News­pa­per head­lines in type­set typ­i­cal of the era, archi­tec­tur­al details, and accu­rate cloth­ing form the back­drop to the char­ac­ters. Pulitzer devel­ops from a young man reduced to sleep­ing on a park bench, curled up like a child, to a con­fi­dent cul­tur­al fig­ure not above sham­ing the rich into donat­ing their wealth to his project. Innerst draws on polit­i­cal car­toon imagery of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. His pic­ture of the scowl­ing pub­lish­er, writ­ing opin­ion pieces about the burn­ing dis­grace” of the stingy rich, is fol­lowed by a scene of these overfed indi­vid­u­als enjoy­ing hors d’oeuvres and con­ver­sa­tion at a par­ty. On the oth­er end of the social and eco­nom­ic spec­trum, he offers an affec­tion­ate homage to work­ing peo­ple; a news­boy rolls a pen­ny as large as him­self down the street, rep­re­sent­ing the pro­por­tion of this mod­est dona­tion to his total income. On every page, Friddell’s ver­bal poet­ry works togeth­er with Innerst’s visu­al one. Chil­dren emp­tied pig­gy banks, wait­ress­es mailed tips, and pok­er play­ers sac­ri­ficed jack­pots!” is paired with a ser­vant in a long apron del­i­cate­ly drop­ping a coin into a stamped envelope.

Both the con­cep­tion and the exe­cu­tion of this won­der­ful book are excep­tion­al. Bartholdi’s dra­mat­ic ren­der­ing of lib­er­ty in the form of a noble woman became part of the Amer­i­cans’ vision of them­selves as a nation of immi­grants. But with­out Pulitzer’s vig­or­ous appeal to the Amer­i­can peo­ple, the sto­ry might have been a dis­ap­point­ment, not an inspi­ra­tion. Clau­dia Frid­dell and Sta­cy Innerst have ele­vat­ed this impor­tant mes­sage for young read­ers into a pro­found­ly orig­i­nal work of art.

This high­ly rec­om­mend­ed book includes an exten­sive after­word with his­tor­i­cal back­ground mate­r­i­al, pho­tographs, a time­line, and bibliography.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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