February 17, 2023
In honor of Black History Month, Kobre & Kim is reflecting on the unique contributions made by African Americans both inside and outside the legal industry. Today, we celebrate Judge Jane M. Bolin, the first Black woman to serve as a judge in the United States. In support of the 2023 Black History Month theme of Resistance, we are honored to recognize the career of Jane Bolin as a pioneer of resistance and representation of Black Americans in the judiciary.
Jane M. Bolin received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Wellesley College and was the first Black woman to graduate from Yale Law School in 1931. Following law school, Judge Bolin practiced law in Poughkeepsie, New York alongside her father before accepting a job with the New York City Corporation Counsel’s office. Judge Bolin was dedicated to public service, running for the New York State Assembly and remaining politically involved throughout her career. On July 22, 1939, Judge Bolin was appointed as a judge of the Family Court for New York City by the city’s mayor, and for twenty years she was the only Black female judge in the United States. Bolin served as a Family Court Judge until she was required to retire at the age of 70. She worked tirelessly to ensure racially equitable child services and equitable assignments of probation officers, and fought for publicly funded childcare agencies to accept children regardless of their race or ethnicity.
During her lifetime, prominent judges such as Constance Baker Motley recognized Jane Bolin as a source of inspiration for their careers. Judge Bolin was an advocate for children’s rights and education, notably as a legal advisor to the National Council of Negro Women. She also served on the boards of NAACP and the National Urban League to fight for racial justice. Additionally, Judge Bolin held honorary degrees from Tuskegee Institute, Williams College, Hampton University, Western College for Women and Morgan State University.