It is commendable in our society to be the first to do something. Whether it is being the first in your family to earn an undergraduate degree, get married, or start their own business, there is significance in the number one spot.
Today’s significant first is the presidency of Barack Obama, America’s first black Head of State. In today’s edition of BlackBlueDog.com’s month-long tribute Your Black History, you will read about a woman who accomplished a number of significant firsts in her life-long quest for greatness. On this day, I have chosen to chronicle the life of The Honorable Judge Jane Bolin, America’s first ever black female judge.
Jane Matilda Bolin (pictured on book cover) was born in Poughkeepsie, New York on April 11, 1908. Her father, Gaius Charles Bolin was the first black person to graduate from Williams College and later became an attorney. Jane Bolin attended grade school, middle school, and high school in Poughkeepsie. She was an exceptional student. After graduating high school, Bolin began her college career at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.
While studying at Wellesley, Bolin was one of the only two black students attending classes at the college. She was ingnored and treated like a second-class citizen. Regardless of the social boundaries at Wellesley, Bolin graduated from the institution in 1928. She was in the academic top 20 of her graduating class.
After receiving her undergraduate degree, Bolin went on to become the first black woman to graduate from Yale Law School. She later became the first black woman to join the New York City Bar Association. Bolin persistently thrived in her legal career by also becoming the first black woman to join the New York City Law Department.
However, Jane Bolin’s main goal in her legal career was to ultimately become a judge. She finally achieved that goal in 1939 when she was sworn in to the bench of the New York City Domestic Relations Court. Bolin was the first black woman in the entire nation to become a judge. She served on the bench with a heart and ruled against gender and race discrimination in the court system. She fulfilled her position on the bench for 40 years, until her retirement at age 70.
The life and legacy of Jane Bolin is proof that persistence is a crown jewel in the recipe for success. Earlier in her career, an academic advisor told her that going to law school after receiving her undergraduate degree was not a good idea because of her race and gender.
She not only proved that person wrong, but she left a legacy behind that paved the way for today’s women of color serving on judicial benches everywhere. Even after her death in January of 2007, her legendary court of greatness is still in session.