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Please Meet Charlotte E. Ray

It’s February again.

I thought I would highlight some less obvious African Americans who have contributed to the tapestry of our American history.

As the first woman admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and the first African-American woman certified as a lawyer in the United States, civil and women’s rights activist and teacher Charlotte E. Ray truly earned her place in history.

She was born in New York City on January 13, 1850, to Charles Bennett Ray and Charlotte Augusta Burroughs Ray.  Charles was a minister at New York’s Bethesda Congregational Church, and editor of the Colored American, an abolitionist newspaper. Charlotte was also an anti-slavery activist who worked with her husband to help escaped slaves travel north to freedom on the Underground Railroad. They had seven children in total (although two passed away as teenagers) and worked to ensure that all of their children graduated from college, which was a highly unusual achievement for a black family in the 19th century.

In the mid-1860s, Ray moved to Washington, D.C. to attend the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth, which was one of the few schools where African Americans could obtain an academic education. After completing her studies at age 19 in 1869, she taught classes at Howard University’s Normal and Preparatory Department, which trained students to become elementary school teachers and prepared them for classes in the collegiate department.

Dissatisfied with teaching, Ray applied to the university’s law school under the name “C.E. Ray” to disguise her gender. University officials reluctantly accepted her application and she attended classes while continuing to teach in the Preparatory and Normal Department. From 1869 to 1872, Ray pursued a demanding course of study, impressing her fellow students and teachers with her quick grasp of legal complexities.

She concentrated on studying commercial law and became the first black woman to graduate from an American law school and receive a law degree. She became the third American woman of any race to complete law school. Ray achieved another first when on April 23, 1872, she was admitted to the bar in the District of Columbia, which had recently removed the word “male” from its requirements.

Though Ray had only a short career as an attorney, her life still represents an enormous triumph. As the first African-American woman lawyer, and one of the first women lawyers in the nation, Ray opened a door for all the women of color who would come after her. To salute her achievement, the Greater Washington Area Chapter of the Women Lawyers Division of the National Bar Association recognized Ray’s contribution to the legal profession in 1989, when it established an annual “Charlotte Ray Award,” to honor outstanding African-American women lawyers in the Washington area. [1]


    Until next time, remember,
  • You are not alone.
  • You are not your circumstances.
  • You have everything within you to live a purpose-filled life.

is a best selling author, Breakthrough Speaker and Spiritual coach. She has spent the last fifteen years mentoring and coaching those needing direction and support in the areas of life skills, leadership development, effective and efficient communications, and improved self-image. Connect with Tyra to get the support and help you need. Contact Info: Tyra Garlington Email: For Bookings and Inquiries: (813) 994-9462 As a Breakthrough Coach, Spiritual Coach and Christian Coach, Tyra offers a variety of breakthrough services including but not limited to: Personal Empowerment Coach :: Spiritual Coaching :: Breakthrough Coaching :: Christian Speaker :: Professional Speaker :: Breakthrough Speaker :: Personal Empowerment Speaker

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