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Meet Charlotte E. Ray, The First Female Black Lawyer In The United States

Charlotte E. Ray was born in New York City on January 13, 1850. She graduated from the Howard University School of Law in 1872 and was admitted to the District of Columbia bar that same year, becoming the first female African-American lawyer in the United States. Active in the suffrage movement, Ray was a member the National Association of Colored Women. She died in New York in 1911.

Ray excelled at her studies at the Howard University School of Law, especially in corporate law. According to Notable Black American Women, one of her classmates described her as “an apt scholar.” Ray earned her law degree in 1872 and was admitted to the District of Columbia bar that same year, becoming the first African-American female attorney in the United States, as well as one of the first women to be admitted to the D.C. bar.


She continued to break new ground for women and African Americans later in life, becoming the first woman to be granted permission to argue cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in the capital. Following her graduation, Ray started her own law office, specializing in commercial law. To attract clients, she advertised in a newspaper run by Frederick Douglass, a leader in the abolitionist movement.

Unfortunately, Ray only practiced for a few years because of the widespread prejudices of the time. It was too difficult for her, as an African American and a woman, to attract enough clients to keep her practice going. Later Life In 1879, Ray moved to New York, where she worked as a teacher in the Brooklyn public schools. She married soon after, taking her husband’s last name, Fraim. Ray championed a number of social causes outside of her classroom, becoming involved in the women’s suffrage movement and joining the National Association of Colored Women.

Ray died on January 4, 1911, in Woodside, New York. While she only practiced law for a few years, she demonstrated that African-American women could excel in this field. Her achievements helped inspire others to reach for other seemingly impossible goals.


Written by PH

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