Women of Valor


Just Like Her Father

Justine Wise Polier, 1903 - 1987

At Yale, Polier met her first husband, a young law professor named Lee Tulin. Their son Stephen was born right before she took the Bar, and soon afterwards the family moved to New York. Lee died in 1932 after a struggle with leukemia. "Those were terrible years," but Polier pushed on, continuing to work and turning to friends for help with caring for Stephen.

Preferring social legislation to practicing law, Polier worked as the first woman referee and later Assistant Corporate Council for the Workman's Compensation Division, helping to eliminate system-wide corruption and draft new laws.

When Mayor LaGuardia offered her a judgeship on the Domestic Relations Court in 1935, Polier turned it down. More interested in labor issues, she also worried she was being "kicked upstairs" to silence her criticisms of New York's relief system. But LaGuardia convinced her to visit the court, and she was "absolutely fascinated." She began a temporary appointment that summer.

By fall, her customary outspokenness had almost lost her the new position. When General Johnson, New York's "economic czar," announced that "welfare people" were "loafers" who belonged in jail, Polier called a press conference, denouncing his inadequate depression strategies. LaGuardia demanded she retract her statements, threatening that he would not renew her appointment.

He complained that, like her father, she said whatever she wanted to, "and didn't care about the consequences." Polier refused to recant, and eventually the mayor relented, swearing her in as a permanent judge.

  1. On Polier's days at Yale, her marriage to Tulin and his death, including "Those were terrible years," quote see Polier, Oral History Interview with Dr. Ernest Goldstein, 9.
  2. On the help Polier received from friends in raising Stephen, see Antler, Journey 190.
  3. On Polier's work as first woman referee and later Assistant Corporate Council, see Polier, Oral History Interview with Dr. Ernest Goldstein, 9-10. Also see Justine Wise Polier, interview with Thomas F. Soapes, 14 September 1977, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York. Box 1, folder 2, pages 6-8.
  4. For quotes on concern over being "kicked upstairs," and being, "absolutely fascinated" see Barbara Campbell, "A Battling Judge Retires To Aid Minority Children," New York Times 3 February 1973.
  5. On her fight with General Johnson and LaGuardia including "and didn't care about the consequences" quote see Polier, Oral History Interview with Dr. Ernest Goldstein, 10-12. Also see: "Work or Jail," New York Evening Journal, 28 August 1935; "Two City Aids Flay Johnson for Job Delay," New York Post 28 August 1935; "Says Mrs. Tulin is to Lose Post," NY World Telegram 10 Sept. 1935.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Justine Wise Polier - Just Like Her Father." (Viewed on April 18, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/polier/just-like-her-father>.