Discouraged but not deterred

Jane Matilda Bolin, Visionary

BY KEISHA BELL

Have you ever wondered how many dreams are deterred because of someone else’s discouragement? Has this happened to you?

Just because something has not been done by someone who looks like her does not mean that she cannot do it. Many are bold when telling her: “You can’t.” She must be bolder and believe: “But, I will.”

Meet Jane Matilda Bolin, the first black woman to serve as a judge in the United States in 1939. Her journey towards this accomplishment includes other historical firsts. Bolin is the first black woman to graduate from Yale Law School, to join the New York City Bar Association and join the New York City Law Department. She lived from April 11, 1908, to January 8, 2007.

Jane Matilda Bolin, VisionaryBolin attended Wellesley College. There, she was one of only two black students in her class. During that time, even in the northern state of Massachusetts, most of the white students ignored her.

Discouraged but not deterred, in 1928 Bolin graduated in the top 20 in her class and enrolled at Yale Law School despite the advice of a careers adviser at Wellesley College. The adviser attempted to discourage her from applying to Yale Law School due to her race and gender. Aside from those two things, she was considered the “ideal” applicant.

Are we properly preparing young girls, and particularly those of color, for the discouragement they may face as women when their pursuits do not fit the understood description of a particular position? Bolin made history when she graduated from Yale Law. Be careful of the advice you accept as true for your life. History makers need advisers who believe in what has not yet been done.

After passing the New York Bar, Bolin practiced law with her father and husband. Then, she served as Assistant Corporation Counsel in the New York City’s legal department. At 31 years old, the mayor of New York City appointed her as a judge of the Domestic Relations Court, later renamed the Family Court. Bolin served as a judge for 40 years.

Bolin’s life experiences prepared her to work effectively for causes bigger than herself. She proactively worked to encourage racially integrated child services, to ensure that probation officers were assigned without regard to race or religion and that publicly funded childcare agencies accepted children without regard to ethnic background.

She was a strong activist for children’s rights and education. After her retirement, she volunteered as a reading instructor in New York City public schools for two years. In addition, she served on the New York State Board of Regents where she reviewed disciplinary cases. Her contribution to society did not go unnoticed. Bolin received honorary degrees from Tuskeegee Institute, Williams College, Hampton University, Western College for Women and Morgan State University.

Keisha Bell

Keisha Bell

Have you ever wondered how many dreams are deterred because of someone else’s discouragement? We must be like Bolin and boldly believe, “But, I will!”

Keisha Bell is an attorney, author and public servant. To reach Bell, email her at emergingfree@gmail.com or log on to www.emergingfree.com to view more of her work.

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