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Yale Law School Mourns Its First African-American Woman Graduate, Jane M. Bolin '31

Jane Matilda Bolin ’31, the first African-American woman to graduate from Yale Law School and the first in the United States to become a judge, died January 8 in Queens, New York. She was 98. 

Born in Poughkeepsie in 1908, Bolin inherited her love of the law from her father Gaius Bolin, a Poughkeepsie lawyer who was the first African-American graduate of Williams College. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1928 and in 1931, earned her LLB from Yale Law School.

Following Yale, she clerked in her father's law office for a short time, then opened a practice in New York City with her attorney husband, Ralph E. Mizelle. In 1937, Bolin was appointed to the Corporation Counsel's office in New York City, and in 1939, was sworn in by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia as judge of the Family Court of New York, where she served for 40 years.

"Judge Jane Bolin lived a life of firsts: the first black woman to graduate from Yale Law School, to join the New York City Bar Association, to act as a lawyer for New York City, to sit on the bench,” said Dean Harold Hongju Koh. “She entered new environs fearlessly, exploded old myths, and helped transform American law with her pioneering spirit. Yale Law School, and our students whose paths she made possible, will always honor and remember her remarkable grace and courage."

Bolin was presented with the Yale Law School Association’s Medal of Merit in 1994. Her portrait hangs in the Law School.

She is survived by her son, Yorke Bolin Mizelle, a granddaughter, and a great-granddaughter.