Primary Sources & Lesson Plans
Justine Wise Polier, the daughter of Rabbi Stephen Wise and Louise Waterman Wise, came from a strong familial tradition of social activism. In her work, she drew on principles central to her religious and secular heritage, in particular the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, repairing the world. Despite her privileged background, she always sought to help the disadvantaged. In 1925, she worked in a textile mill in Passaic, New Jersey, to learn about workers problems. Because of her fathers fame, she used her mothers maiden name. When her true identity became known, she was blacklisted from the mills.
Believing that as a lawyer she would be able to help these and other disadvantaged workers, Polier soon enrolled in law school. In 1926, when a strike broke out in the Passaic mill in which she had worked, she went to support the strikers goal of union recognition. The press dubbed her Jeanne dArc of the Mills for her passionate speeches. The strike was prolonged and brutal, due to police brutality against the workers and the intransigence of the mill owners. After more than a year, the workers finally won the right to unionize.
For more information on the 1926 strike and the life of Justine Wise Polier, go to JWAs Women of Valor exhibit.
1. How did Poliers presence attract attention to workers problems? Did it draw any attention away from them?
2. Why was Poliers help so useful to the workers cause?
3. Why did the press focus on Polier and dub her Jeanne dArc?
4. Do you think Polier was the best person to represent the workers? Why or why not?
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