Women of Valor



Justine Wise Polier, 1903 - 1987

"Passionate concern may lead to errors of judgment, but the lack of passion in the face of human wrong leads to spiritual bankruptcy..."

An outspoken activist and a "fighting judge," Justine Wise Polier was the first woman Justice in New York. For 38 years she used her position on the Family Court bench to fight for the rights of the poor and disempowered. She strove to implement juvenile justice law as treatment, not punishment, making her court the center of a community network that encompassed psychiatric services, economic aid, teachers, placement agencies, and families.

A prolific writer and a passionate speaker, she lent her voice to the struggle against injustice whenever she saw it. Her words went everywhere, from popular articles to endless letters to the editor, to legal journals. No matter what the personal cost, she was brutally honest about her experiences with a system that often failed the very children it was created to protect.

For Polier, to be a Jew meant an unwavering commitment to uphold the rights of all people. Though she came from a privileged background, she had a deep understanding of how the sufferings of poverty and racism brought most children to her court. Never naive, always with a clear view of the ways in which power worked, she remained firm in her faith that championing the cause of justice could truly change the world.

  1. "Passionate concern may lead to..." quote from Justine Wise Polier, "Basic Elements of Friendly Frontiers," Christ Church, October 14, 1952, Justine Wise Polier papers, box 45, folder 563. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, page 3.
  2. Caption to Justine Wise Polier with Mrs. Andre Taylor...: the quote "One of the most troubling aspects..." is from Justine Wise Polier, Oral History, conducted by Columbia University, Butler Library, Oral History Research Office, [1982], Polier papers box 1, folder 3, page 5-6
  3. Caption to Justine Wise Polier: the quote "There was nothing soft or charitable..." is from an observation written by a Teacher's College student after a field trip to Polier's court, 1943, Polier Papers, box 3, folder 28.

How to cite this page

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