As we celebrate Ketanji Brown Jackson, we thought it would simple be befitting to recognize Charlotte Ray who was the first African-American woman to graduate from a law school and the first to formally practice law in the U.S. Charlotte E. Ray was among the great women who paved the way for black women to become lawyers.
At 19, Ray began teaching at Howard University, although her goal was to join the school’s law program. She applied to the program under the name “C.E. Ray” as a way to disguise her gender.
Ray graduated from Howard University School of Law in 1872 and was admitted to the District of Columbia bar. At the peak of her legal career, she opened her own law office in DC but was forced to close her practice because of prejudice in her community, leading her to move to New York and become a school teacher.
Ray was active in the women’s suffrage movement through her involvement with the National Woman Suffrage Association and the National Association of Colored Women. She died of bronchitis in 1911.