Women of Valor


Family Legacy

Justine Wise Polier, 1903 - 1987

"My parents were among the first progressive parents who thought their children should always be at the dinner table to be heard as well as seen."

Justine Wise Polier came from a family with a tradition of staunch, unyielding principles. Both her parents had committed their lives to "battles for social justice," and always encouraged Justine and her older brother to "speak out and speak up."

Justine's father, the prominent Rabbi Stephen Wise, established the Free Synagogue to ensure he could speak with absolute freedom in the pulpit. He was one of the founders of the American Jewish Congress, a leading advocate of an Israeli state, a supporter of the NAACP from its inception, and a pro-labor activist.

Her mother, Louise Waterman Wise, painter and ardent Zionist, founded a Jewish foster care and adoption agency. Later renamed Louise Wise Services in her honor, it also provided assistance for unwed mothers. Polier assumed the agency's leadership in 1944 and soon reorganized it to be interracial and non-sectarian.

The Wise home was "a place where people came from everywhere without any feeling of looking up or looking down." As Polier remembered, "I was one of the most fortunate of children because my parents shared so much- in their ideals, their work...And perhaps most important they...never gave us the feeling they were too busy or engaged in anything more important than their life with us."

  1. For "My parents were among the first progressive parents..." quote as well as the reference to their "battles for social justice," and her home as "a place where people came from everywhere..." see Justine Wise Polier, Oral History, conducted by Columbia University, Butler Library, Oral History Research Office, [1982], Polier papers box 1, folder 3, page 1.
  2. "speak out and speak up," quote from Stephen Wise, Letter to Justine Wise, 27 Jan. 1926, in Justine Wise Polier papers, box 1, folder 15.
  3. "I was one of the most fortunate..." Justine Wise Polier, Letter to Mrs. Michael Applebaum. Reprinted in Applebaum's speech, "Justine Wise Polier-Jurist." [1974], Polier Papers, box 47, folder 589.
  4. Caption to Stephen Wise and Justine Wise: the quote "one of my first recollections as a child..." is from Justine Wise Polier, Oral History, Columbia University 12.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Justine Wise Polier - Family Legacy." (Viewed on April 18, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/polier/family-legacy>.