Charlotte E. Ray
Charlotte E. Ray
1850 - 1911
Charlotte E. Ray blazed a trail for Black women admitted to law school in the United States. Considering her historical importance, it's unfortunate that the only known image of Ray is the drawing shown above. However, her impact deserves celebration with or without a photo to accompany the narrative of her contributions.
Before becoming a trailblazing legal scholar, Ray was an educator. She attended and graduated from the Institution For the Education of Colored Youth, also known as the Normal School For Colored Girls. Today, the Normal School For Colored Girls is registered with the National Register of Historic Places as simply the Miner Normal School. The school adopted the name of Myrtella Miner, one of the school's founding directors several years after its founding. The Miner Normal School was created as an educator training institution.
Soon after completing her studies at the Miner Normal School, Ray began her teaching career at a preparatory school affiliated with Howard University in Washington D.C. Ray applied and was accepted into Howard's law school. This was unique for a school to admit a woman and even more rare to admit a Black woman. Ray earned her law degree in 1872 and immediately started preparing for the bar examination. When Ray passed the bar examination in 1872, she became the first woman admitted to the District of Columbia bar and the first Black woman attorney in U.S. history.
Though past the chains of pre-Civil War America, Ray and other Black Americans were not beyond the shackled mindsets of D.C. residents. Racist and patriarchal biases disabled Ray from finding enough clients to earn a living. Thus, her career in law was cut short and she returned to New York in her mid-thirties to teach.