Judge Jane Bolin

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Law, Media Archive, Social Justice, United States, Women on 2022-02-01 04:14Z by Steven

Judge Jane Bolin

Historical Society of the New York Courts

David L. Goodwin, Appellate Public Defender
New York, New York

Dear Jane,

You’re one of the reasons the courts for children are a greater hope than some people say. You’re one of the dedicated ones.1

Born and raised in Poughkeepsie, but with a career in the five boroughs of New York City, Jane Matilda Bolin (1908–2007) is best known for a particular “first” of groundbreaking magnitude. She holds the honor of being the first African-American judge in the entire United States, joining the bench of New York City’s Domestic Relations Court in 1939. Her appointment by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, which came as some surprise to Bolin herself — summoned with her husband to an audience with the mayor at the 1939 World’s Fair, she was not informed of the mayor’s intentions in advance — made “news around the world.”2

About that news: in announcing this historical judgeship, some outlets hedged the call, if ever so slightly. The Chicago Defender, which “chronicled and catalyzed the African-American community’s greatest accomplishments for nearly a century,”3 proudly announced that La Guardia had “smashed a precedent for the entire United States” because Bolin was “thought to be the first Race woman judge to be appointed in this country.”4 About two months later, the Defender had eliminated the qualifier, describing Judge Bolin as the “first Race woman to serve as a judge in the history of America.”5 And despite the shifting nature of historical inquiry, her title has held firm; on the sad occasion of her obituary, she was still, resolutely, “the first black woman in the United States to become a judge.”6

Read the entire article here.

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