But Can She Cook?
Justine Wise Polier, 1903 - 1987
"When the first man to emerge from her courtroom was asked how it had gone, he replied, 'Well, the judge wasn't there—but his wife treated me just fine.'"
As the first woman judge in New York state, Polier received a good deal of publicity. Throughout the next two decades, columnists reassured readers that the logical, efficient Polier also liked "pretty things, a nice suit or a dress just like any other woman." In one article, Polier's long list of accomplishments were offset by only one shortcoming: "She can't cook."
The press also noted Polier's description of herself as a "poor feminist." She told reporters there was no special need for women judges, only "a tremendous need for good people on the bench, but not women necessarily." But Polier's absolute commitment to justice made her a powerful advocate for poor women throughout her life. In the 1920s she was fighting for the Passaic women laborers. In the 1980s she was condemning the federal ban on funding for poor women's medically necessary abortions.
Polier saw feminism as just one, inseparable part of a greater struggle. In 1973 she commented that, "Surely, the concern for the liberation of women need not and should not be separated from the struggle by women to protect and advance the freedom of all those still denied equal opportunities and full participation in the life of this country."
- "when the first man..." quote from James Mills, "The War Against Children," Life 19 May 1972: 58.
- "She says she likes pretty things..." quote from Naomi Jolles, "Close-up," New York Post, April 19, 1945.
- "She can't cook," quote from Betty Walker, "Why She Strives for Justice," Chicago Sun Times 11 Dec. 1950.
- "a tremendous need for good people..." quoted in Dorothy Kilgallen, "No Hero," NY Evening Journal 9 July 1935.
- "Surely, the concern for the liberation..." quote from Justine Wise Polier, "In Defense of Human Rights," commencement address, Bryn Mawr, May 14, 1973, Polier papers box 47, folder 587, 4.
- On Polier and the right for funding to poor women for medically necessary abortions, see Joyce Antler, "Justine Wise and the Prophetic Tradition," unpublished essay, 1998, 19.