Charlotte Ray, who was born January 13, 1850 in New York City, became, in 1872, the first female African-American lawyer; in fact, she was only the third American woman of any race to complete law school. That same year she also became the first woman admitted to the District of Columbia bar. She was also the first woman permitted to argue cases before the Supreme Court.
Ray was the youngest of three girls. He father, Reverend Charles Bennett Ray, was the pastor of the Bethesda Congregational Church and was also the publisher of the “Colored American”, a leading New York African American newspaper. Rev. Ray was also a leading abolitionist and helped with the underground railroad.
The family moved to Washington, D.C. when Ray was young and she attended the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth, the only school that would admit African American girls. She graduated from there in 1869, when she was 19. She was hired by Howard University, then only about four years old, to train teachers. She convinced the Howard University Law School to admit her and she attended there, while also teaching, from 1869 – 1872.
Ray opened her own law office in Washington, D.C. Because Ray was both an African American and a woman the prejudices of the time caused her law practice not to be successful and she only practiced law for a few years.
In 1879, Ray returned to New York and taught school in Brooklyn public schools. She married in 1886 and took her husband’s last name, Fraim. Little is known of him other than his name. There were no children. It is unclear how long the marriage lasted. Ray became active in the woman’s suffrage movement and also joined the National Association of Colored Women.
Ray died January 4, 1911 in Woodside, New York.
Also, a Happy 96th Birthday to artist Edna Hibel. Renowned the world over for her art, in 2001 she became the first woman to ever be awarded the Leonardo DaVinci World Award of Arts. She was a National Women’s History Month 2008 Honoree.
–Nancy Campbell Mead