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Charlotte E. Ray was born January 13, 1850, in New York City. She was one of seven children. Her father greatly influenced her future. He was a minister, an abolitionist, and the editor for the Colored American, an abolitionist publication. Watching her father fight for justice and equality gave her the efficacy to do likewise as an adult.
Ray’s parents taught her to value education early on. She attended the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth in Washington, D.C. in the 1860s. By the end of the 1860s, she had begun teaching at the preparatory school associated with Howard University. She then applied to Howard’s law program as C. E. Ray. She was admitted into the program.
Ray graduated with her law degree in 1872. Later that same year, she was admitted into the D.C. bar. She passed the exam and became the first Black woman attorney and one of the first women to be admitted into the D.C. bar exam. She also became the first woman to argue a case before the supreme court.
Shortly after graduating, Ray established her own practice. She specialized in commercial law. In an attempt to attract clients, she ran an ad in newspapers that were owned by Frederick Douglass. Despite running her ads, building a client base was difficult. Because she was a Black woman, people doubted her qualification as a lawyer.
Shortly after closing her practice, Ray returned to New York City. There, she began teaching in Brooklyn public schools. She focused her activism on suffrage for Black women. She joined the National Association of Colored Women.
Although she only practiced law for a short period of time, Ray was a pioneer and inspiration to many people. Charlotte E. Ray died January 4, 1911. She was 60 years old. As a testament to her impact on law, Ray was honored by the law fraternity Phi Alpha Delta at the Northeastern University School of Law in 2006 when they named their fraternity after her.
**The views and actions of the DDH historical figures that are featured may not reflect the views and beliefs of Ramiro The Writer (Nikodemus Mwandishi) or We Buy Black. Thank you.**