Charlotte E. Ray

Charlotte E. Ray Biography

Women's Rights Activist, Civil Rights Activist, Activist, Lawyer (1850–1911)
Charlotte E. Ray became the first female African-American lawyer in the United States in 1872.


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.

Early Years

Born in New York City on January 13, 1850, Charlotte E. Ray is best known as the first female African-American lawyer in the United States. Decades before she would win that distinction, however, Ray grew up in a large family as one of seven children. Her father, Charles, was a minister and an activist in the abolitionist movement. He edited the Colored American, an abolitionist publication, and helped in the underground railroad, which aided escaped slaves in their efforts to find freedom in the North.

Education was very important to Ray's family. During the 1860s, Ray attended the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth in Washington, D.C. The institution was one of only a handful of places that offered a quality education to young, African-American women. By the end of the 1860s, she had become a teacher at the preparatory school associated with Howard University. Ray then applied to the university's law program as C.E. Ray, using only her initials. Some thought that she used her initials as a way of disguising her gender since the university did not accept women into the program, but her exact intentions remain unknown. In any case, Ray gained admittance to the program.

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.

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