Guide to the Justine Wise Polier and Eleanor Roosevelt Correspondence Collection


Processed by Stefanie Halpern

American Jewish Historical Society

Center for Jewish History

15 West 16th Street

New York, N.Y. 10011

Phone: (212) 294-6160



© 2019  American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY. All Rights Reserved.
Electronic finding aid was encoded in EAD 2002 by Alyssa Carver in January 2014. Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Polier, Justine Wise, 1903-1987
Creator: Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
Title: Justine Wise Polier and Eleanor Roosevelt Correspondence Collection
Dates:bulk 1938-1962
Abstract: This collection contains correspondence between Judge Justine Wise Polier and Eleanor Roosevelt sent between 1938-1962, with additional correspondence sent between Judge Polier and other individuals through 1972. The bulk of the correspondence between the two women is of a personal nature. There is also correspondence relating to US political and social concerns including WWII immigration quotas, Jewish refugees from various countries, settlement houses, education for racial minorities, and the Civil Rights Movement.
Languages: The collection is in English.
Quantity: 0.25 linear feet (1 half manuscript box)
Identification: P-527
Repository: American Jewish Historical Society
Location: Located in AJHS New York, NY
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Biographical Note
Eleanor Roosevelt and Justine Wise Polier, undated photograph from American Jewish Congress event

Roosevelt and Polier, undated

Justine Wise Polier (1903-1987) was born in Portland, Oregon to Louise Waterman Wise, founder of the Free Synagogue Child Adoption Committee (1916) and Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, a leading Jewish communal figure and founding member of both the NAACP (1914) and the American Jewish Congress (1918). Wise Polier attended Bryn Mawr College from 1920-1922 and Radcliffe College from 1922-1923, before finally completing her BA at Barnard College in 1924. She then attended Yale Law School and received her degree in 1928. From 1929-1934, Wise Polier worked for the Workmen’s Compensation Counsel, and in 1935, newly-elected New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia appointed her judge in the Domestic Relations Court (now known as the New York State Family Court). At this time, Justine Wise Polier was the first woman to hold a judgeship in New York, a position which she maintained until her retirement in 1973.

Justine Wise Polier and Eleanor Roosevelt seem to have begun their political relationship in the late 1930s. Although ultimately unsuccessful, the two worked actively to mobilize public and governmental opinion in favor of the Wagner-Rogers Bill, which was intended to loosen the immigration quota and allow an additional 20,000 German Jewish refugees into the United States. In 1941, Eleanor Roosevelt invited Wise Polier to serve in the Office of Civilian Defense, an agency based out of New York and established by Executive Order whose purpose was to meet a variety of war-time needs in the United States including civilian protection, boosting community morale, and organizing domestic volunteer efforts. It was during this time (1941-1942) that the friendship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Justine Wise Polier seems to have developed, as much of the correspondence from this period was personal in nature.

A life-long champion of children’s rights and education, Wise Polier was heavily involved in the administration of the Wiltwyck School for Boys, the first nonsectarian and interracial agency that cared for and educated neglected and troubled youth in New York. Amid financial difficulties which threatened to shut the school down, Wise Polier appealed to Eleanor Roosevelt to help re-organize the institution. Eleanor Roosevelt became a proponent of the school and, from 1942 until her death, served as a member of the board of directors.

In 1956, Wise Polier called upon Roosevelt once again, this time to intervene on behalf of Jewish refugees in Morocco who were being barred from making their way to Israel. In July of that year Eleanor Roosevelt appealed directly to the Moroccan sultan, Mohammed V, to allow the Jewish refugees to leave the country, and shortly after their correspondence the Moroccan Government allowed 6,000 Jewish refugees in a camp in Casablanca to leave for Israel.

Justine Wise Polier and Eleanor Roosevelt remained close friends until Mrs. Roosevelt’s death in 1962.

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Scope and Content Note

This collection consists mainly of correspondence between Justine Wise Polier and Eleanor Roosevelt sent between 1938 and 1962, though included in the collection are also several related letters sent to/from other individuals. The bulk of the collection is personal correspondence between the two women. The collection also contains correspondence between Justine Wise Polier and Eleanor Roosevelt relating to relaxing the quota for Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany allowed into the United States, and a letter pertaining to reparations for victims of Nazism. There is also correspondence from 1956 that discusses the Moroccan resistance and the crisis of Moroccan Jewish refugees, with a direct appeal to the Moroccan sultan from Eleanor Roosevelt to allow these Jews to leave for Israel. There is also correspondence documenting Wise Polier’s and Roosevelt’s involvement in supporting the Wiltwyck School for Boys and the Riis Houses, a public housing project, as well as their mutual interest in the Civil Rights Movement. The collection also contains correspondence that shows the contribution of both Justine Wise Polier and Eleanor Roosevelt to several individual appeals including intervention in a case involving the forced-retirement of a navy captain after WWII.

There is a file of restricted material that relates to two child welfare cases in which both Justine Wise Polier and Eleanor Roosevelt were involved. The materials have been restricted because they contain personal and identifying information about those involved in both cases.

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The collection is arranged in a single series. Folders are arranged alphabetically and the materials within each folder are arranged chronologically. Original materials and photocopies are housed in separate folders.

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Access and Use

Access Restrictions

The photocopied files in this collection are open to all researchers by permission of the Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society, except for Folders 1 and 2, which are restricted due to privacy concerns. Original materials are restricted unless the researcher is given special permission.

Use Restrictions

Information concerning the literary rights may be obtained from the Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society. Users must apply in writing for permission to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection. For more information contact:
American Jewish Historical Society, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY, 10011

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Related Material

AJHS also holds the papers of Justine Wise Polier's husband, Shad Polier: P-572, Guide to the Shad Polier Papers, 1916-1976.

The Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute at Harvard holds a large collection of Judge Polier's papers as well: MC 413: Polier, Justine Wise. Papers, 1892-1990.

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This collection is also available on one reel of microfilm.

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Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date (if known); Justine Wise Polier and Eleanor Roosevelt Correspondence Collection; P-527; box number; folder number; American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY.

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Acquisition Information

Gift of Justine Wise Polier, 1985.

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Processing Information

Prior to processing, the collection was arranged in loose chronological order. A partial set of photocopies of the correspondences were part of the collection. These were removed because of age and quality. However, because the majority of the letters were written to and from Eleanor Roosevelt, and because the collection is used often, the decision was made to mark the original materials as restricted and re-photocopy the entire collection on acid-free paper. The photocopies were then placed in separate folders which correspond to the originals. Additionally, envelopes were found in each folder, but most were not attached to a particular letter. Although the envelopes are not necessary in identifying specifics about the correspondence, the envelopes were separated out and placed together in a folder since many of the letters were sent to and from the White House and are visually and historically interesting.

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Access Points

Click on a subject to search that term in the Center's catalog. Return to the Top of Page

Container List

The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.

Click the box in the request column to open the form that allows you to request a box for onsite viewing in the reading room at the Center for Jewish History, New York, NY.


Justine Wise Polier and Eleanor Roosevelt Correspondence Collection, 1938-1972

1 1 Child Welfare Cases--Restricted Material 1961-1962 request_box
1 2 Child Welfare Cases--Restricted Material--Copy 1961-1962 request_box
1 3 Children and Education--Restricted 1942-1959 request_box
1 4 Children and Education--Copy 1942-1959 request_box
1 5 Civil Rights--Restricted 1943-1962 request_box
1 6 Civil Rights--Copy 1943-1962 request_box
1 7 Envelopes 1938-1972 request_box
1 8 Individual Aid--Restricted 1939-1957 request_box
1 9 Individual Aid--Copy 1939-1957 request_box
1 10 International Jewish Community Services and Aid--Restricted 1951-1956 request_box
1 11 International Jewish Community Services and Aid--Copy 1951-1956 request_box
1 12 Other Correspondences--Restricted 1941-1972 request_box
1 13 Other Correspondences--Copy 1941-1972 request_box
1 14 Personal--Restricted 1939-1962 request_box
1 15 Personal--Copy 1939-1962 request_box
1 16 Public Assistance Programs and Initiatives--Restricted 1938-1943 request_box
1 17 Public Assistance Programs and Initiatives--Copy 1938-1943 request_box
1 18 World War II/Holocaust--Restricted 1939-1954 request_box
1 19 World War II/Holocaust--Copy 1939-1954 request_box
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