Honorable Jane Bolin: First Black Female Judge
Jane Bolin was born in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1908. Jane’s father was an attorney which helped inspire her dream to also practice law. She went to Wellesley College as one of only two Black freshman and despite the discrimination she faced she graduated in 1928 as a Wellesley Scholar.
She was accepted into Yale Law School, where he was the only Black person and one of only three women. Her father was worried about her career choice because of the types of people attorney’s encounter, but as she progressed through her education began to accept her career choice. She earned her Law degree from Yale in 1931. She ended up working in her father’s law office until she passed the bar exam in 1932.
In 1937 Jane applied for a job within the New York City corporation counsel’s office and was hired immediately and assigned to what was then called Domestic Relations Court (now called Family Court).
On July 22, 1939 Mayor of NYC, Fiorello LaGuardia, requested her presence which made Jane nervous as she thought she was going to receive some type of scolding. To her surprise Mayor LaGuardia ended up swearing her in as a judge and assigned her to preside over Domestic Relations Court, where she stayed for 40 years. After being sworn in as judge she told The New York World-Telegram she hoped to convey “a broad sympathy for human suffering, I’ll see enough of it.” She was right to think that and ended up presiding over cases that included violent and other offenses committed by juveniles; battered spouses; neglected kids; and adoptions. She did what she could to help the children in her court rooms feel as comfortable as possible, including not wearing her judicial robes which can feel intimidating.
While serving as judge she made changes to how probation officers are assigned and requiring publicly funded private childcare agencies accept children without regard to ethnic background.
In 1979 Judge Bolin retired, but her work did not end. She served on the New York State University Board of Regents and was a member of the NAACP, National Urban League, and the Child Welfare League.
Judge Jane Bolin passed away in New York City in 2007.