Charlotte E. Ray was a pioneer for women in law, she became the first female African- American lawyer in the United States in 1872.
She was born in New York City on January 13, 1850, one of seven children. Her father was a minister and activist in the abolitionist movement. He edited the ‘Colored American’ an abolitionist publication and helped in the underground railroad. During the 1860s Charlotte attended the institution for colored youth in Washington DC the institution. A place that offered quality education to young African-American women, towards the end of 1860 she became a teacher at the preparatory school associated with Howard. She applied to the University’s law program under her initials C.E Ray, this was a way of hiding her gender since women were not accepted into the program.
Charlotte was exceptional, especially in corporate law. She earned her law degree in 1872 and was admitted to the District of Columbia bar that same year. This made her the first African-American female attorney in the United States! She was also one of the first women to be admitted to the DC bar. Charlotte continued to break barriers later becoming the first woman to be allowed permission to argue cases in front of the U.S Supreme Court in the capital.
After graduation, Charlotte opened her own law firm specializing in commercial law. She advertised in a newspaper run by Frederick Douglass. Sadly, due to widespread prejudices at the time, it was challenging for her to attract clients as an African American woman and closed her law firm only after a few years.
Charlotte passed on January 4, 1911, in Woodside New York. She demonstrated African American women can excel in anything we set our minds to with hard work and dedication. Thank you, Charlotte.