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Shad Polier Papers

Identifier: P-572

Scope and Content Note

The Shad Polier Papers consist of correspondence, articles and speeches by and about Polier, legal files from cases in which Polier was involved, newspaper clippings, personal papers, photographs, minutes, and various official legal documents, such as birth, marriage, death, and adoption certificates.

The materials in this collection mainly relate to Polier’s legal work, although there is also some personal correspondence. The small number of adoption files in the collection have been restricted for privacy. There is other information relating to New York state adoption legislation, which was monitored by Louise Wise Services, for which Polier was the attorney, including the impact of religion on adoption. This collection would be useful for researchers interested in civil liberties and anti-discrimination legislation, particularly the intersection of Jewish and African-American efforts within the Civil Rights movement, fair housing and employment discrimination. Researchers of welfare and labor might also be interested in the materials on the investigation of Mobilization for Youth (MFY) and a city youth organizer, Ezra Birnbaum, by a New York State anti-subversive investigatory committee and the loyalty investigations of Shad Polier, Justine Wise Polier, and James Waterman Wise as well as posthumous allegations directed against Rabbi Stephen Wise for their involvement with these issues. In addition, there is material on school prayer and the Constitution, federal funding of parochial schools, freedom of the press, and libel laws. Polier’s involvement with the American Jewish Congress’ Commission on Law and Social Action, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the World Jewish Congress is also represented.

Among the individual correspondents are Justine Wise Polier, James Waterman Wise, El Mehdi Ben Aboud (Ambassador of Morocco), Roy Wilkins, Thurgood Marshall, Felix Frankfurter, Hubert Humphrey, John Haynes Holmes, Martin Luther King, Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, and Adlai E. Stevenson.

The materials in this collection date from 1916-1976, with the bulk dating from 1940-1970. The majority of the collection is in English, with a few newspaper clippings in Yiddish. The collection consists of 11 manuscript boxes and 1 half manuscript box comprising 5.75 linear feet. Adoption record files have been restricted.


  • 1916-1976
  • Majority of material found within 1940 - 1970


Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.

Use Restrictions

No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at

For reference questions, please email:

Biographical and Historical Note

Shad Polier was born Isadore Polier in Aiken, South Carolina on March 18, 1906. He graduated with distinction from the University of South Carolina in 1926, and then attended Harvard Law School, where he received his law degree in 1929 and a Master of Law degree in 1931. He was admitted to the New York Bar in 1930. He devoted himself to the civil rights cause in response to his strong feelings about the lynchings that had taken place throughout the South, particularly in his hometown of Aiken, South Carolina. Polier prepared legal briefs on behalf of the defendants before the High Court in the 1931 Scottsboro case, in which nine black youths were charged with raping two white girls. Partially in response to the Scottsboro case, he became active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), serving on the Executive Committee of its Legal and Educational Defense Fund for thirty years. He emphasized the strong parallels between the African-American and Jewish experiences and his belief that liberty and freedom can exist only when all citizens hold equal rights.

In 1946 Polier prosecuted Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, maintaining that the university’s admissions policies discriminated against Jewish and other minority students. In 1948 he brought a personal suit against the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, alleging that its Stuyvesant Town Development in New York was guilty of discriminatory housing practices by not admitting African Americans. Although Polier’s original case was dismissed, the American Jewish Congress, of which Polier was the vice president, continued to fight for fair housing laws and the case ultimately resulted in their establishment. Polier also led the fight for the first statewide Fair Education Practices Law that was directed at ending discrimination in the admission to colleges and universities on the basis of race or religion. This law was passed in 1947, in large part due to his actions. Polier was also involved in the landmark Brown vs. the Board of Education case. Along with several other members of the American Jewish Congress, Polier submitted briefs of amici curiae to the court supporting the students’ rights to obtain equal education.

In 1945 Polier became chairman of the newly-created Commission on Law and Social Action (CLSA) of the American Jewish Congress, which he had helped to found, and he held this position for ten years. The Commission on Law and Social Action was founded to conduct legal battles against antisemitism, segregation, racism, and other discriminatory laws. In this capacity he fought and won a six-year battle against antisemitic job practices by ARAMCO, the Arabian-American Oil Company. Polier occupied prominent positions in the World Jewish Congress, including as a member of its Executive and Governing Council, Chairman of its Budget and Finance Commission and Honorary Chairman of its National Governing Council, the organization’s policy-making body. He was also a member of the board of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany and of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.

Polier's wife Justine Wise Polier was the daughter of Rabbi Stephen Wise and Louise Waterman Wise. Rabbi Wise was a prominent rabbi, one of the founders of the American Jewish Congress and the NAACP, a leading advocate of a Jewish state, and a pro-labor activist. Louise Waterman Wise was a prominent artist and social worker who founded the Free Synagogue Child Adoption Committee in 1916 in New York. Justine Wise Polier was the first woman Justice in New York and a judge of the New York Family Court for 35 years, retiring in 1973, as well as an outspoken activist for the rights of the poor and disempowered. Like her husband, Justine Wise Polier was deeply involved in fighting against institutional racism, particularly in the New York school system. Both were involved with the Citizens' Committee for Children and the Free Synagogue Child Adoption Committee, which was renamed the "Louise Wise Services" by Justine Wise Polier, who served as President of its Board of Directors. Shad Polier died June 30, 1976 in New York City.


5.75 Linear Feet (11 manuscript boxes and 1 half-size manuscript box.)

Language of Materials






This collection contains the personal and professional papers of Shad Polier, including legal files from cases with which Polier was involved, particularly those concerning adoptions and civil liberties, articles and speeches by Polier, correspondence, and materials from several of the organizations with which Polier was affiliated, including the American Jewish Congress, the World Jewish Congress and the NAACP. These materials reflect his widespread participation with the civil liberties movement, equal rights and anti-discrimination law.

Physical Location

Located in AJHS New York, NY

Acquisition Information

These papers were donated to the American Jewish Historical Society Archives by Justine Wise Polier in 1986.

Digitization Note

2017: Five folders (Box 4, Folder 6; Box 7, Folder 4; Box 7, Folder 9; Box 8, Folder 24; Box 9, Folder 1) were digitized through the Digitization-on-Demand program.

2023: Items from Series V: Correspondence (Box 8, Folders 19-29) and Series VI: Adoption Cases (Box 9, Folders 1-12) were digitized.

Additional Polier materials located in the Records of the American Jewish Congress (I-77) have been digitized and can be viewed at the following links:

Shad Polier Newsletter, 1958-1959

Shad Polier Newsletter, 1960

Shad Polier Newsletter, 1961

Shad Polier Newsletter, 1962

Shad Polier Newsletter, 1963

Shad Polier Newsletter, 1964

Guide to the Shad Polier Papers, 1916-1976
Processed by Rachel S. Harrison as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation. Additional Processing by Ruby Johnstone (2022)
© 2010.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.

Revision Statements

  • September 2017: dao links to DOD folders added by Leanora Lange.
  • September 2020: RJohnstone: post-ASpace migration cleanup.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States