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Daughter of the Empire State

Daughter of the Empire State: The Life of Judge Jane Bolin

Jacqueline A. McLeod
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Daughter of the Empire State
    Book Description:

    This long overdue biography of the nation's first African American woman judge elevates Jane Matilda Bolin to her rightful place in American history as an activist, integrationist, jurist, and outspoken public figure in the political and professional milieu of New York City before the onset of the modern Civil Rights movement._x000B__x000B_Bolin was appointed to New York City's domestic relations court in 1939 for the first of four ten-year terms. When she retired in 1978, her career had extended well beyond the courtroom. Drawing on archival materials as well as a meeting with Bolin in 2002, historian Jacqueline A. McLeod reveals how Bolin parlayed her judicial position to impact significant reforms of the legal and social service system in New York._x000B__x000B_Beginning with Bolin's childhood and educational experiences at Wellesley and Yale, Daughter of the Empire State chronicles Bolin's relatively quick rise through the ranks of a profession that routinely excluded both women and African Americans. Deftly situating Bolin's experiences within the history of black women lawyers and the historical context of high-achieving black New Englanders, McLeod offers a multi-layered analysis of black women's professionalization in a segregated America._x000B__x000B_Linking Bolin's activist leanings and integrationist zeal to her involvement in the NAACP, McLeod analyzes Bolin's involvement at the local level as well as her tenure on the organization's national board of directors. An outspoken critic of the discriminatory practices of New York City's probation department and juvenile placement facilities, Bolin also co-founded, with Eleanor Roosevelt, the Wiltwyck School for boys in upstate New York and campaigned to transform the Domestic Relations Court with her judicial colleagues. McLeod's careful and highly readable account of these accomplishments inscribes Bolin onto the roster of important social reformers and early civil rights trailblazers.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09361-6
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. 1. Her Standing in Poughkeepsie: Family Lineage and Legacy
    (pp. 1-14)

    On April 11, 1908—the year Springfield, Illinois, erupted in a race riot that led to the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)—the woman who would become the nation’s first African American woman judge was born in Poughkeepsie, New York. Although a world removed from New York, the injustice that was Springfield and the hope that would become the NAACP easily embodied the motivational forces that would guide Jane Matilda Bolin in service for the rest of her life—a life devoted to social justice. Standing as she was “at the foot of...

  6. 2. On Her Own: The Years at Wellesley and Yale
    (pp. 15-25)

    In Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison reminds us that “outside the Brotherhood we were outside history; but inside of it they didn’t see us.”¹ These words capture fully Jane Bolin’s experiences at Wellesley College, where an educational institution for women offered no more community than an educational institution intended for white men. Bolin’s years at Wellesley and Yale Law School therefore reveal the degree to which her experiences were framed by the historical, social, and political construction of race.

    In 1924 Jane Bolin entered Wellesley College, the small New England women’s college, where she and another black woman were the first...

  7. 3. Politics of Preparation: The Making of the Nation’s First African American Woman Judge
    (pp. 26-42)

    Jane Bolin’s graduation from Yale University Law School in 1931 signaled the beginning of a series of remarkable firsts in the legal profession. As the first black woman graduate from Yale, she pioneered in a profession that was virtually all white and all male. Six years later she was appointed assistant corporation counsel of the City of New York, becoming the first black woman to occupy that position. When New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia appointed her to the Domestic Relations Court of the City of New York in 1939, she became the nation’s first black woman judge. In 1943...

  8. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  9. 4. Politics of Practice: An African American Woman Judge on the Domestic Relations Court
    (pp. 43-60)

    On July 24, 1939, two days after Mayor La Guardia appointed Jane Bolin to the Domestic Relations Court, Justice Jacob Panken inducted her as a justice there, making her the nation’s first African American woman judge.¹ Bolin entered a very exclusive fraternity in the legal hierarchy, overwhelmingly male and white. She would remain the only African American woman judge for the next two decades. How she experienced this judicial space of authority was therefore greatly informed by her consciousness as an African American woman. That she was a judicial appointee as opposed to an elected one also impacted her tenure...

  10. 5. Speaking Truth to Power: A View from the Bench of Judge Jane Bolin
    (pp. 61-78)

    In the Family Court of the State of New York and its predecessor courts Judge Bolin presided over the complex and delicate family court matters such as juvenile homicides, nonsupport of wives and children, battered spouses, neglected and abandoned children, adoptions, and paternity suits from every racial and ethnic group of every socioeconomic strata. She imparted and fought for justice with equal vigor, and in so doing, made an indelible impact on the law and on the lives of many New Yorkers.¹ Committed to making the law an instrument of fairness, her reformist zeal excited her judicial colleagues who joined...

  11. 6. Persona Non Grata: Jane Bolin and the NAACP, 1931–50
    (pp. 79-106)

    African American women have always boasted a strong presence in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). From its inception women have played key roles. They numbered among those who signed the Call for the National Negro Conference in 1909 that led to the formation of the NAACP, which was organized in response to two days of racial violence in Springfield, Illinois, in August 1908. Of the founding members, women comprised a full third, representing leadership in suffrage, settlement-house work, child-labor activism, and racial reform.¹ Two were African American women—Mary Church Terrell of Washington, D.C., and...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 107-110)

    Judge Jane Bolin retired from the Family Court of the State of New York on December 31, 1978, at age seventy, then the mandatory age for retirement. Her departure after four decades on the bench elicited as much media coverage as did her appointment as the nation’s first African American woman judge in 1939. On the occasion of her retirement, however, there was some fanfare—unlike the occasion of her appointment. But characteristic of her humility and her relentless concern for civil rights, Judge Bolin asked that the tribute not focus on her but instead on the rights of children...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 111-140)
  14. Index
    (pp. 141-146)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 147-149)