boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe

Jane Bolin, 98; was first African-American female judge

NEW YORK -- Jane Bolin, the nation's first black female judge and the first black woman to graduate from Yale Law School, died Monday in Queens. She was 98.

Judge Bolin was sworn in by Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia in 1939, according to the city's law department. She was assigned to the Domestic Relations Court, later named Family Court, and fought racial discrimination from the bench.

She worked to end segregation in child placement facilities and the assignment of probation officers based on race. She also helped create a racially integrated treatment center for delinquent boys.

Judge Bolin reflected on her status as a barrier-breaker in a 1993 interview with The New York Times.

"Everyone else makes a fuss about it, but I didn't think about it, and I still don't," she said. "I wasn't concerned about first, second, or last. My work was my primary concern."

The city's mayors renewed her appointment three times, until the law required her to retire at age 70.

Judge Bolin, born April 11, 1908, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., was the daughter of a successful lawyer.

Initially discouraged by a Wellesley College adviser from pursuing a law degree because of her race and gender, Ms. Bolin graduated from Yale Law in 1931.

She initially met resistance when she applied to work for New York's law department, but in 1937 she became an assistant corporation counsel.

She held the job for two years until she was made a judge.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES