On this day in history – April 23rd 1872, Charlotte E Ray became the first black female lawyer in the United States of America. She was also the first black female to graduate from an American law school. She was also the first black female lawyer in District Columbia and also the first woman to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court. Her wit, brains and perseverance made her able to break through many racial and gender barriers.
Charlotte was born on January 12th, 1850 in New York City, New York. She was one of seven children born to her parents; Charles and Charlotte Ray. Her father was a minister and an editor of the abolitionist newspaper entitled Colored American. Charlotte’s mother was an anti-slavery activist. At one point the Ray family moved to Washington, DC and Charlotte E. Ray attended the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth. She continued her education here until she graduated in 1869. After she graduated she became a teacher for Howard University’s Normal and Preparatory Department. While teaching, she then enrolled in Howard Law School under the guise C.E. Ray. It was said this was done to hide the fact she was a woman as females were not readily admitted into the law school program. However, she was admitted and her career in law started. She graduated on March 3rd 1872, making her the first black female lawyer. On April 23rd 1872, she was admitted by the D.C. Supreme Court for law practice.
Charlotte went on to open up her own law practice in D.C., however due to racial tensions and gender disparity she was not able to maintain clients. Sadly, Charlotte had to go back to Brooklyn, New York and become a teacher. She passed away at the age of 60.