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Daughter of the Empire State

The Life of Judge Jane Bolin

Jacqueline A. McLeod

Publication Year: 2011

This long overdue biography 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_When Bolin was appointed to New York City's domestic relations court in 1939 for the first of four ten-year terms, she became the nation's first African American woman judge. 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. 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. McLeod links Bolin's activist leanings and integrationist zeal to her involvement in the NAACP and details her work as a critic and reformer of domestic relations courts and juvenile placement facilities.

Published by: University of Illinois Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quotes

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

Several years ago while doing research on Constance Baker Motley, the prominent civil rights attorney and federal judge, I encountered another woman, Judge Jane Matilda Bolin, and discovered what a profound impression she had made on Motley as a black woman in the legal profession. Although Motley had had outstanding mentors such as Thurgood Marshall, ...

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pp. xv-xvi

My scholarly interest in Jane Bolin began over a decade ago and benefited greatly from the many helpful staff members at the various institutions where I did research: the Library of Congress, the Schlessinger Library, the University of Pennsylvania Archives, the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, ...

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1. Her Standing in Poughkeepsie: Family Lineage and Legacy

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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. ...

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2. On Her Own: The Years at Wellesley and Yale

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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. ...

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3. Politics of Preparation: The Making of the Nation's First African American Woman Judge

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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, ...

Illustrations after page 42

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pp. 60-63

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4. Politics of Practice: An African American Woman Judge on the Domestic Relations Court

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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. ...

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5. Speaking Truth to Power: A View from the Bench of Judge Jane Bolin

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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. ...

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6. Persona Non Grata: Jane Bolin and the NAACP, 1931-50

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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, ...

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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. ...


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pp. 111-140


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pp. 141-146

About the Author, Production Notes, Back Cover

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pp. 168-170

E-ISBN-13: 9780252093616
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252036576

Page Count: 168
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 827454874
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Daughter of the Empire State

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Subject Headings

  • Bolin, Jane M. (Jane Matilda), 1908-2007.
  • African American judges -- New York (State) -- New York -- Biography.
  • Women judges -- New York (State) -- New York -- Biography.
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