28 Faces of Black women – Charlotte E. Ray

February marks the celebration of Black History month. As a sorority who believe in “Excellence Through Unity”, it is only fitting that we take the time to present some of the notable women in African-American History.

During the month of February  we will present a short biography on famous, inspiring, and world-changing African-American women throughout history.

Today, we introduce you to Charlotte E. Ray, the first African-American Female Lawyer.



Ray was born in New York City to Charlotte Augusta Burroughs and Reverend Charles Bennett Ray, a prominent abolitionist. Education was important to her father, who made sure each of his girls went to college.

Charlotte attended a school called the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth in Washington, D.C., which was one of the few places black women could gain proper education. After this she became a teacher at Howard University in the Normal and Preparatory Department, which was the University’s Prep School. While teaching at Howard, she registered in the Law Department. In the law school she specialized in commercial law, and graduated on February 27, 1872 and was the first woman to graduate from the Howard University School of Law.

Ray was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar on April 23, 1872.[2] She began her independent practice of commercial law in 1872, which she advertised in a newspaper called New National Era and Citizen owned by Frederick Douglass. She was the first women allowed to practice and argue in the Supreme Court in Washington D.C. Contrary to popular belief, Charlotte E. Ray was active in court and can be heard in her pleading for the Galdey vs. Gadley case, June 3. 1875. (Smith) In this case, she defends an uneducated woman petitioning for divorce, liberating her from an abusive relationship. Despite the connections she had from Howard, and the advertising, she was unable to keep a steady client flow due mostly to ever-present discrimination. Regardless of her legal knowledge and corporate law ability, not enough people were willing to trust a black woman with their cases. Instead she gave up her practice and she devoted her professionalism to the Brooklyn school system.


**Picture and inserts taken from Wikepedia