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Jeanne D’Arc of the Mills,” New York Journal, March 1926

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About this News Article

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Historical Background

Discussion Questions

Level: Middle School and above


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More of this TYPE: Letter

More of this TIME PERIOD: 1900-1949

More on these TOPICS: Anti-Semitism, Arts & Recreation, Jewish Values & Practice


HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

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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 father’s fame, she used her mother’s 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 d’Arc 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 JWA’s Women of Valor exhibit.

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DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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1. How did Polier’s presence attract attention to workers’ problems? Did it draw any attention away from them?

2. Why was Polier’s help so useful to the workers’ cause?

3. Why did the press focus on Polier and dub her “Jeanne d’Arc”?

4. Do you think Polier was the best person to represent the workers? Why or why not?


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Jewish Women's Archive. "JWA - News Articles - Middle Class Advocacy on Behalf of Striking Mill Workers." <http://jwa.org/primarysources/news_01.html>.