March is Women’s History Month! – Jane Bolin
In honor of Women’s History Month, The Elder Law Center of Kirson & Fuller is proud to feature women that have impacted the nation through jurisprudence.
Daughter of pioneer lawyer Gaius Bolin – first African-American graduate of Williams College; Jane Bolin was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, on April 11, 1908. Bolin was an exceptional student, completing high school in her mid-teens then attending Wellesley College and receiving her BA. She then moved on to graduate school and was the first African-American woman to graduate from Yale University Law School in 1931. With a solid education in jurisprudence, Bolin worked in her family’s private practice until she married and moved to New York City.
With a JD in hand, Bolin continued to be a trailblazer as the first African-American woman to join the New York City Bar Association and the first to work in the city’s legal department. By 1939, she broke ground yet again as the first African-American woman to be a judge in the United States; appointed to a family court in New York City serving a 10-year term and reappointed three times, retiring at the age of 70. Bolin proved to be a thoughtful, conscientious force on the bench, making substantial changes to ensure that children of color could receive necessary public funds. She also worked alongside then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to decrease juvenile crimes among young boys, supporting the Wiltwyck School. Her legal landmarks include the elimination of the assignments of probation officers based on ethnicity and made it mandatorily private child-care agencies, which ran on public funds, were required to help children regardless of their background.
“Those gains we have made were never graciously and generously granted. We have had to fight every inch of the way—in the face of sometimes insufferable humiliations,” – Jane Bolin, 1958
Beyond the courtroom, Bolin was also on the board of the NAACP, the National Urban League and the Child Welfare League of America. She died in 2007 at the age of 98.
Sources: Ignite.org, Biography.com & ABA Journal