As a young woman, Polier studied labor relations and advocated for workers’ rights, while also working at a settlement house and textile mill. She attended Bryn Mawr College, Radcliffe College, and Barnard College. In 1925, she enrolled in Yale Law School, where she eventually became editor of the Yale Law Journal. Her first husband was Leon Arthur Tulin, a professor of criminal law at Yale. He died of leukemia in 1932. She married Shad Polier in 1937.
Preferring social legislation to practicing law, Polier worked as the first woman referee and later Assistant Corporate Council for the Workman's Compensation Division. In 1935, New York City Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia offered her a judgeship on the Domestic Relations Court, and at age 32 Polier became the first woman judge in New York State.
In her time serving as judge, Polier was deeply involved in combating de facto segregation in the New York school system and institutional racism elsewhere in the public sector. During what she called her "second day," Polier worked to broaden services to troubled children and their families with organizations like the Citizen's Committee for Children, the Field Foundation, and the adoption agency founded by her mother in 1916 and renamed "Louise Wise Services" by Polier, who served as President of its Board of Directors beginning in 1946, and the Wiltwyck School.
Polier was deeply moved by the Jewish prophetic tradition of commitment to justice. Polier's concern for Jewish rights meant that, like her parents, she was a committed Zionist. She served as vice-president of the American Jewish Congress, and president of its women's division. In addition she believed that pluralism and the separation of church and state were "the essence of Americanism."
Polier's absolute commitment to justice made her a powerful advocate for poor women and children throughout her life. In the 1920s she fought for the Passaic women laborers, in the 1980s she condemned the federal ban on funding for poor women's medically necessary abortions, and she spent her retirement monitoring national juvenile detention policies for the Children's Defense Fund. Polier's ideal of justice was infused with empathy. At the same time, she insisted compassion was worthless unless accompanied by a commitment to justice. Although she had never planned to serve more than a few years in the Family Court, Polier stayed for almost four decades.
Much of this article is based on an article at the Jewish Women's Archive, www.jwa.org, which is available under the terms of the GFDL.