Women of Valor

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An Unusual Education

Justine Wise Polier, 1903 - 1987

"My education was fairly conventional until I went to work in a textile mill in Passaic, New Jersey when I finished college."

Polier's "fairly conventional" college education included transfers from Bryn Mawr to Radcliffe to Barnard. She was continually in search of more advanced economic courses and "fed up on dried-up old maids studying problems of people about whom they knew nothing."

At Radcliffe, sensing that she "wasn't close enough to people," she moved out of "that blue-stocking world" to live in a settlement house and teach English. At Barnard, she did research on women's workplace injuries and the inadequacy of their workmen's compensation.

"After that, to experience labor conditions at first hand," Polier worked nights at textile factories in Passaic, New Jersey. "Those were the days of the battles for the right to organize, and the conditions of workers were abominable." The women she worked with spent their days on housework and tending their children in terrible slums, and their nights in the factory for starvation wages.

Because Rabbi Wise's pro-labor stance was well known, Polier used her mother's maiden name, Waterman, at the mills. But anti-union spies soon discovered her true identity. "We know who you are, you are Rabbi Wise's daughter," she was told—and promptly blacklisted from all Passaic's factories.

Notes: 
  1. "My education was fairly conventional..." quote from Polier, Oral History, Columbia University 1.
  2. "fed up on dried-up old maids..." quoted in Joyce Antler. The Journey Home: Jewish Women and the American Century (New York: The Free Press, 1997) 186.
  3. On Polier's feeling that she "wasn't close enough to people...", see Justine Wise Polier, Oral History Interview with Dr. Ernest Goldstein, [1982], Polier papers, box 1, folder 3, page 7.
  4. "After that, to experience labor conditions at first hand," Polier, Oral History Interview with Dr. Ernest Goldstein, 7.
  5. "Those were the days of the battles of..." quote from Polier, Oral History, Columbia University 1.
  6. On the conditions of women laborers as observed by Polier, see Justine Wise Polier, "Passaic," ts undated, box 1, folder 16, Polier papers.
  7. For the story of Polier's blacklisting and, "We know who you are...," quote, see "Deposition of Justine Wise, City of New Haven," 24 April 1926, Polier papers, box 1, folder 15.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Justine Wise Polier - An Unusual Education." (Viewed on April 24, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/polier/unusual-education>.