Jane Bolin: First Black Woman to Serve as U.S. Judge

From BlackHistory:

JaneShe was born, Jane Matilda Bolin on April 11, 1908. She was the youngest of four children. Her father was Gaius Charles Bolin.

…Jane’s decision about the discipline of law, in which she would later engage, was shaped by her exposure to the plight of black people in America during those times. Having led a previously sheltered lifestyle, that exposure came through her father’s committed involvement in the NAACP. Jane faithfully read every edition of The Crisis, the NAACP’s bi-monthly magazine (founded in 1910 by W.E.B. Du Bois), from cover to cover. It was within those pages, which regularly published photos of lynching victims from across the country, that Jane’s sheltered life was shaken. The violent racism and hatred directed at black people was a world away from the microcosm that she grew up in, where her father was respected and admired by both black and white, and she was generally protected from the prejudice that divided the country. She dedicated herself, and her passion for law, to helping others. After graduation from Poughkeepsie High school in 1924, at only 15 years of age, the brilliant Jane would follow in her father’s footsteps. She enrolled in a prestigious Massachusetts undergraduate college, with the intent to major in law. She attended Wellesley College, a liberal arts college for women near Boston, and was one of only two black students there. Both immediately ostracized and ridiculed by the entire student body, they decided right away to live off campus, and become roommates. This was Jane’s first taste of blatant racism. Jane later recalled that the majority of her days at Wellesley were “sad and lonely.” “There were a few sincere friendships developed in that beautiful, idyllic setting of the college,” Jane remembered, “but on the whole, I was ignored outside the classroom.“

Despite a lack of encouragement and respect from most of her professors, Jane graduated as one of the top 20 students of her class in 1928, and was officially designated a “Wellesley Scholar.” Jane knew that the treatment she had received from faculty throughout her matriculation, would only continue during the obligatory meeting with Wellesley’s career advisor for graduating seniors. As expected, the advisor told Jane that she should not pursue a legal career, as there would be no work for a black woman as an attorney. When she made it clear that she would not only pursue a career in law, but intended to apply to Yale Law School to continue her studies, she was mocked and told that she should aim lower… as she would never be accepted at such a prestigious institution. Even Jane’s father tried to dissuade her from applying to Yale, only seeking to shield her from further prejudice, as he had once been able to do when she was a child. He made the case that the law profession revealed the worst in human nature. He preferred that Jane instead become a teacher- where she could help instruct, encourage, and inspire black students to pursue an advanced education and make great advances for the black community. Jane felt that she would be an even greater inspiration, by doing those things herself, as a pioneer in her chosen field. Little did G. Charles know at the time that he was making his case, that Jane had already been accepted at Yale. When her father learned this, he relented, and gave Jane his full support.

Emboldened and unintimidated through her experience at Wellesley, Jane enrolled at Yale Law School that same year- as the only black woman, and only one of three women in total, matriculating there.

More here. (Note: One post throughout February will be dedicated to Black History Month.)