Find Communities

Pioneer in Law: Jane Bolin

In honor of Black History Month, ACRES continues to celebrate pioneers of our industry.

Jane Bolin (April 11, 1908 – January 8, 2007) achieved many firsts: She was the first woman of color to graduate from Yale Law School, the first to join the New York City Bar Association the first to join the New York City Law Department and the first black woman to serve as a judge in the United States when she was sworn into the bench of the New York City Domestic Relations Court in 1939.

Bolin remained a judge of the court for 40 years until she was required to retire aged 70. Her legacy includes changing many segregationist policies, including requiring child care agencies that got public funding to accept children regardless of their race or ethnicity. She also ended the practice of assigning probation officers based on race or religion. Bolin also worked with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt in providing support for the Wiltwyck School, a comprehensive, holistic program to help eradicate juvenile crime among boys.

Despite her many accomplishments, Judge Bolin remained focused on her work, dismissing accolades as a “fuss” in a New York Times interview in 1993.

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