Women of Valor


The Wiltwyck School

Justine Wise Polier, 1903 - 1987

"When I went on the court, there was complete racial segregation and almost a complete exclusion of non-white children from private social services in New York, certainly from any of the residential services. Non-white children were placed in very few segregated and inferior institutions; they weren't even considered for adoption and were rarely considered for foster home care...."

Although the state relied on private sectarian agencies to provide services, these organizations often denied children treatment and foster care because they were not white. And because there were no private services at all for young black Protestant boys, judges were forced to wait until a needy child "committed a felony" or grew old enough to be sent to the state training school. Polier was "so horrified" that in 1936 she "collected a group of 20 cases and went down to LaGuardia." The mayor sent her to the Episcopalian Mission Society which agreed to open the Wiltwyck School for boys in upstate New York.

When the Mission Society decided to close the school in 1942, Polier enlisted friends like Eleanor Roosevelt to help her reestablish it as non-sectarian and interracial. From then on, Polier served as member of the board, including eight years as its president. Wiltwyck continued its work as an important rehabilitative center for children until 1983, when it was overcome by a lack of funding.

  1. "When I went on the court, there was..." quote from Polier, Oral History, Columbia University, 4-5.
  2. On the lack of services for Black Protestant children under 12 and the quote "committed a felony," see Justine Wise Polier, Letter to Naomi Levine, Esq. 31 July 1973, Polier papers, box 21, folder 251.
  3. On establishing Wiltwyck and "so horrified" quote see Polier, Oral History Interview with Dr. Ernest Goldstein, 12-13.
  4. On Wiltwyck's origins and its growth, see "Wiltwyck Names Judge Polier to Top Honorary Position," The Yorktowner, 17 July 1969.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Justine Wise Polier - The Wiltwyck School." (Viewed on April 20, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/polier/wiltwyck-school>.