Charlotte E. Ray: First Black Female Lawyer in United States

by | Dec 13, 2017 | Did You Know, DYK, History | 0 comments

Born on January 13, 1850 in New York, Charlotte E. Ray began teaching at Howard University but was unfulfilled by this occupation because her real aspiration was to become a lawyer.[1] This ambition made Ray enroll in Howard University School of Law under C.E. Ray because the school discouraged women from gaining their education at the university.

Ray graduated from Howard University School of Law in 1872, which made her the first woman to graduate from Howard University with a law degree.

Charlotte E Ray, first African-American
female lawyer in the United States

Furthering her law career that same year, Ray was admitted to the District of Columbia bar, thus making her the first African American female lawyer in the United States.  She also became the first woman who was given permission to argue a case in front of the United States Supreme Court.[2]

After graduation from Howard University School of Law, she opened her own law practice, where she specialized in commercial law.

In order to try to create business, Charlotte Ray advertised in certain newspapers, such as Frederick Douglass’.  However, prejudice against her race and gender during the time was still very high, which created struggles for Charlotte who was not getting the business she hoped for.  Unfortunately, after a few years of the prejudice of the times, Charlotte E. Ray decided to close her law practice due to lack of clients.[3]

After closing her law practice, Charlotte E. Ray moved back to New York in 1879 where she became a teacher for a Brooklyn school. However, she continued to push the boundaries of her time as a woman’s rights advocate and became a member of the National Association of Colored Women.

She also married, not long after moving back to New York, and became Charlotte E. Fraim.[4]

Charlotte passed away on January 4, 1911, in Woodside, New York, where she resided during her married life.

[1] Ray, Charlotte E. (1850-1911) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed. Accessed November 08, 2017. 

[2]Charlotte E. Ray.” April 02, 2014. Accessed November 08, 2017. 

[3]Today in Civil Rights History: Charlotte E. Ray, First Female African-American Lawyer.” The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. May 22, 2017. Accessed November 08, 2017. 

[4] The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Charlotte E. Ray.” Encyclopædia Britannica. April 28, 2014. Accessed November 08, 2017. 

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