Jane Bolin – Important Figures in US History

Jane, pictured in her mid-30's, in the World War II era.
Jane, pictured in her mid-30's, in the World War II era.

Jane Bolin was born on April 11th, 1908, in Poughkeepsie, New York. She was raised by her father, Gaius Bolin, following the death of her mother when she was a young child. She was an excellent student and graduated high school at the top of her class. She then attended Massachusetts' Wellesley College, from where she received her Bachelor's of Arts degree. Jane then continued on in her educational pursuits as she earned a Law degree from Yale. In doing so, Jane became the first African-American woman to earn a law degree from the prestigious university. She married Ralph Mizelle in 1933, and they moved to New York City, and from there her career took off.

4. Career

After arriving in New York, Jane Bolin ran for a New York State Assembly seat. She was unsuccessful in her endeavor, but she found employment working for the Assistant Corporation Counsel in New York City, and she was the first African American woman to reach that position as well. From the years of 1932 through 1937, she worked as a private practice lawyer, until the Mayor of New York offered her a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Mayor La Guardia swore Jane in as a judge on July 22, 1939, at which time she became the first African-American female judge in the United States.

3. Major Contributions

As a judge Bolin worked a great deal in family courts, and paid special attention to cases involved with children. She also worked to eradicate segregationist policies, and made several contributions to improving the lives of African-Americans in the city and beyond. After her first term, she was appointed to serve three more, stretching her career as a judge over an impressive 40 years. As well as being a judge, she also served on the boards of many important organizations, such the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Child Welfare League of America, as well as on that of the New York Urban League.

2. Challenges

Bolin was constantly facing the challenges associated with being both a woman and an African-American in an American legal system dominated by white males. She was able to overcome the stigmatization and discrimination she received through all of her amazing achievements, such as graduating from Yale and becoming the first African-American female judge. She also had to raise her son by herself following the death of her husband in 1943, all the while trying to further her career as a public official in the legal system.

1. Death and Legacy

Jane Bolin retired at the age of 70, but continued to help out her community by working as a consultant and volunteering at schools to teach math and reading to children. Jane died on January 8th, 2007 in Long Island at the age of 98. Her life story has been recorded in a biography published in 2011 called Daughter of the Empire State: The Life of Judge Jane Bolin. Her legacy continues through all of the work she did to help families and children, as well as her contributions to improving the lives of African-Americans, and advocating for their receiving equal civil rights guaranteed to all Americans.


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