Charlotte E. Ray Was the First African American Woman to Become a Lawyer

Charlotte E. Ray

The legal industry remains relatively hostile to African-Americans even to this day. That is why the accomplishments of Charlotte E. Ray are so impressive. In the 1800s, she became the first Black female lawyer in American history.
Early Years

Ray was born in 1850 to parents who believed in the value of education. She graduated from one of the few grade schools available to African-Americans at the time. She then joined Howard University's teacher preparatory program. She subsequently applied to and was accepted into Howard's law school. She graduated in 1872 and became a member of the District of Columbia bar that same year.

A Huge Victory

While Ray focused primarily on commercial law, she did represent Martha Gadley in 1875. Gadley was seeking a divorce from her abusive husband, but her petition was initially denied. Ray argued the case in front of the District of Columbia Supreme Court and won a victory for her client.

Post-Legal Career

Sadly, the Martha Gadley case would prove to be the highlight of Ray's legal career. Most people at the time were wary of hiring a female African-American lawyer. Ray had trouble obtaining clients and was forced to close her practice.

Ray then moved back to New York City, where she became a teacher. She died in 1911 at age 60.