Jane Bolin, 98; first black woman judge in America

From Associated Press

Jane Bolin, who became the first black female judge in the United States when she was sworn in by New York City Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia in 1939, has died. She was 98.

Bolin’s death Monday in New York was confirmed by Matt Kovary, spokesman for the New York City Bar Assn.

Bolin, who was the first black woman to graduate from Yale Law School, 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.

Bolin reflected on breaking barriers during 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 the age of 70.

Bolin, born April 11, 1908, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., was the daughter of a successful lawyer. Initially discouraged by a Wellesley College advisor from pursuing a law degree because of her race and gender, Bolin graduated from Yale Law School in 1931.

She practiced law with her father in Poughkeepsie and later with her husband, Ralph Mizelle, in New York. Years before it was common, she decided to keep her maiden name.

Bolin initially met resistance when she applied to work for New York’s law department, but in 1937 she became the first black person to serve as an assistant corporation counsel in the city. She continued at the job until two years later, when the mayor called her in for what she was certain was a reprimand. Instead, she was sworn in to the bench.


Bolin is survived by her son, Yorke B. Mizelle.

Her first husband died in 1943. Her second husband, clergyman Walter Offutt Jr., died in 1974 after nearly 25 years of marriage.