JANE BOLIN

By Tim Sullivan

Today’s fierce female is Jane Bolin.

Born in 1908, she was one of just two black freshmen in her class at Wellesley College and would go on to place in the top 20 of her graduating class. She went on to Yale for law school, where she was the only African-American and just one of three women in her year. She became the first black woman to earn a law degree from Yale in 1931 and passed the New York state bar the following year. 

Jane served in the New York City Corporation’s Counsel for eight years before being appointed to the Domestic Relations Court in 1939 by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. This made her the first black female judge in the United States. She would not be joined on the bench by another black woman in America for over twenty years. 

For over 40 years, Jane served on the Family Court, where she integrated child services and probation officers. She insisted that publicly funded agencies accept children in need without regard to race, and was a staunch and vocal advocate for children and education. 

After reaching the forced retirement age of 70 - lamenting, “They’re kicking me out” - Jane volunteered in New York public schools. She died in 2007 at the age of 98. 

"I wasn't concerned about first, second or last. My work was my primary concern.”

"Families and children are so important to our society, and to dedicate your life to trying to improve their lives is completely satisfying.”

“I am saddened and maddened even nearly half a century later...(M)y college days for the most part evoke sad and lonely personal memories...I report my memories honestly because this racism too is part of Wellesley’s history and should be recounted fully, if only as a benighted pattern to which determinedly it will never return and, also, as a measure of its progress.”

"When I came in, the one or two black probation officers handled only black families. I had that changed.”

"I'd rather see if i can help a child than settle an argument between adults over money.”

"Those gains we have made were never graciously and generously granted. We have had to fight every inch of the way and in the face of sometimes insufferable humiliations.”


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