Jane Matilda Bolin was born on April 11, 1908 in Poughkeepsie, New York, to Gaius C. Bolin and Matilda Ingram Emery. Her father was a lawyer and the first black person to graduate from Williams College and also the first black president of the Dutchess County Bar Association.
Although she was denied admission at Vassar College as black students were not allowed, at 16 years, Bolin enrolled at Wellesley College in Massachusetts where she was one of two black freshmen. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1938 in the top 20 of her class.
In 1931, she became the first black woman to graduate from Yale Law School and passed the New York state bar examination in 1932. After graduation, she practiced with her father in Poughkeepsie for a while before accepting a job with the New York Corporation Counsel’s office.
On July 22, 1939, at the New York World’s fair, Mayor of New York City Fiorello La Guardia appointed Bolin as a judge of the Domestic Relations Court, where she was the only black female judge for 20 years.
Bolin was an activist for children’s rights and education and a legal advisor to the National Council of Negro Women. She founded a special school for black boys in New York in her attempt to fight racial discrimination from religious groups.
Bolin died January 8, 2007 at the age of 98 in Long Island City, Queens, New York.