Women of Valor

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Workers' Rights

Justine Wise Polier, 1903 - 1987

"My father said that he knew my intentions were good, but he questioned what skills I had to do anything about them."

In light of her factory experiences, Polier decided to enroll in Yale law school, "since it would be a good idea to get some legal background and know what my rights and the rights of other people were." "By the end of my second year [1926], the great textile strike had broken out in Passaic where I had worked, so I commuted between Yale Law School and Passaic, to the horror of some of the reputable people at Yale."

The press termed Polier a "Joan of Arc" and reported on her fiery speeches against the "feudal tyranny" of the mill, its terrible conditions and its "octopus-like espionage system." Meanwhile Stephen and Louise Wise were, as always, "very understanding and very supportive even when I caused plenty of trouble," and sent letters and telegrams urging "love courage hope." Her father also joined her in addressing the strikers, helping to raise funds for their relief and gathering support in Washington.

Police brutality against the strikers brought the struggle into the national spotlight, but mill owners still refused to negotiate for almost a year. Finally in December of 1927 the textile workers won their demands for the right to unionize.

Notes: 
  1. For quotes "My father said that he knew..."; "since it would be a good idea to get some legal background..."; "By the end of my second year..."; and on parents role as "very understanding and very supportive ..." see Polier, Oral History, Columbia University 2.
  2. Quotes from Polier's speeches given in Antler, Journey 188.
  3. "love courage hope" from Louise and Stephen Wise, telegram to Justine Wise, 24 February 1926, Polier papers, box 1, folder 15.
  4. On Stephen Wise's role in the strike see Polier, Oral History Interview with Dr. Ernest Goldstein, 9, and Carl Hermann Voss, Rabbi and Minister (Cleveland, Ohio: The World Publishing Company, 1964) 232-236.
  5. On the course of the strike and police brutality, see Mary Heaton Vorse, The Passaic Textile Strike (Passaic, New Jersey: General Relief Committee of Textile Strikers, 1927).

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Justine Wise Polier - Workers' Rights." (Viewed on April 25, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/polier/workers-rights>.