America’s First Female African American Judge

Jane Bolin was the youngest of four children. Her father was a lawyer who practiced for 50 years and was the first African American to be elected president of his local bar association. Her mother was an immigrant from the British Isles who died when Jane was eight years old.

Jane experienced discrimination growing up when she was denied service in some businesses. After graduating from high school at age 16, she had hoped to go to Vassar College but was denied admission due to her race. She was one of two African American students accepted at Wellesley College. She was discouraged from applying to Yale Law School, but later she applied and was accepted as the only African American and one of three women. She graduated in the top 20 of her class and became the first African American to graduate from Yale Law School.

After working with her father for a short time, she became the first African American to assume a position with the New York City Corporation Counsel’s Office. When she was 31, she was appointed as a judge of the Domestic Relations Court in New York City. She was the only female African American judge in the country for 20 years. She continued in the position until she was required to step down when she reached 70 years of age.

As a judge, she worked to integrate child services and eliminate discrimination based on race or ethnicity. She became an activist for civil rights in all aspects of society including organized religion. Although she was forced to leave the court system at the age of 70, she remained professionally active until her death at age 98.

Hidden heroes must often fight against the image that others have of them based on their biology. Judge Bolin was discounted throughout her life based on her race, but she persevered. It would take another 83 years before an African American woman served on the U.S. Supreme Court.

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“We are all different. Don’t judge, understand instead.” – Roy T. Bennett (Author)

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