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Jane M. Bolin, 1942
On this date in 1908, Jane M. Bolin was born. She was an African American lawyer who became the first Black female judge in America.
From Poughkeepsie, NY, she was one of four children of Gaius Bolin, the first African American graduate of Williams College who practiced law in Poughkeepsie. Bolin attended Wellesley College, graduating with honors in 1928. In 1931, she was the first Black woman to attend Yale Law School. After marriage to Ralph E. Mizelle and a successful law career, she ran unsuccessfully as the Republican candidate for New York’s seventeenth district state assembly seat. In 1937, Bolin was appointed assistant corporate counsel in New York City’s law department. Here she made inroads, with private employers, to hire people for qualifications, rather than discriminate against African Americans.
The mayor of New York City appointed Bolin as a judge on July 22, 1939. She was the first the first Black woman judge; and was reconfirmed by the next three mayors, serving for ten years. Bolin devoted much of her life to community activities, serving on the boards of the Child Welfare League of America, the local and national branches of the NAACP, the Neighborhood Children’s Center, and similar groups. Her other areas of involvement were the Committee against Discrimination in Housing, Committee on Children of New York City, Scholarship and Service Fund for Negro Students, and the Urban League of Greater New York.
Her first husband, with whom she had a son (Yorke), died in 1943. In 1950, she married a minister, Walter Offutt, Jr., who died in 1974. After retirement she volunteered as a tutor in math and reading for children in the New York City public school system. She presided over the Family Court of the State of New York for forty years. Bolin fought for racial justice all her life, but as a judge, she always saw herself as a guardian for the whole city and for all children in need. Jane Bolin died on january 11, 2007.
The Face of Our Past
Images of Black Women from Colonial America to the Present
Edited by Kathleen Thompson and Hilary Mac Austin
Copyright1999, Indiana University Press