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February 3: Justine Wise Polier

Lawrence Bush
February 3, 2010
Justine-Wise-Polier-portrait-relaxed-poseActivist judge Justine Wise Polier retired from New York family court on this day in 1973, after thirty-eight years of service. When Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia appointed her to the city’s “domestic relations” court in 1935, she was the youngest city judge in America (age 32) and the first woman in New York to hold a judicial post higher than magistrate. Polier was the daughter of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise and Louise Waterman Wise and was strongly shaped by their commitment to Jewish social activism. She helped lessen the impact of racial and religious discrimination in social service agencies, helped develop the legal concept of “the best interests of the child,” and made her court into a virtual meeting place for activists — “a national laboratory of communication,” writes historian Joyce Antler, among “the legal system, the behavioral sciences, and the human services delivery system.” She died on July 31, 1987, at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. [T]he ongoing challenge was how to change the laws, how to challenge practices in the courts, and how to find a more creative way of meeting social problems in one’s daily decisions.” — Justine Wise Polier

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.