Jane Bolin, Class of 1928

Jane Bolin
Class of 1928

Jane Bolin was born in 1908 in Poughkeepsie, New York. Her father, Gaius Bolin, was the first Black graduate of Williams College, and he practiced law in Poughkeepsie. While at Wellesley, Bolin was one of two Black students, and they were made to live off-campus. She described her college days as mostly sad and lonely, given the racist, exclusionary social climate. She graduated in 1928, and although she was initially discouraged by a Wellesley College adviser from pursing a law degree due to her race and gender, she went on to graduate from Yale Law School in 1931, the only Black student in her class. Ms. Bolin achieved a great many firsts for a Black woman: first to graduate from Yale Law School, first to join the New York City Bar Association in 1932, and the United States’ first Black female judge.

Her trajectory toward the bench was a turbulent one. She faced racism and sexism when applying to New York City firms following law school. When she was rejected, she practiced law with her husband, and then went on to the Corporation Counsels’ office in New York, which was responsible for the city’s legal affairs. In 1939, New York City Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia swore Bolin onto the bench, where she was assigned to the Domestic Relations Court, known as Family Court today. For nearly four decades, Bolin fought racial discrimination. She worked to end segregation in child placement facilities, helped to create a racially integrated treatment center for delinquent boys, and ended assignments of probation officers based on race. Bolin’s experiences of racial discrimination at Wellesley College and during her career in the New York City inspired a lifelong fight against social problems and racial injustice. She died at the age of 98 in 2007 in Queens, New York.