Charlotte E. Ray

Quick Look At Ray

Charlotte E. Ray was the first African American female lawyer in the United States.

Early Life and Education

Charlotte E. Ray was born on January 13, 1850, in New York City, New York. Charlotte and her family moved to D.C. the same year she was born. She was the youngest of seven children and her father worked as a reverend. Ray went to school at the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth. At the time, this was the only school in D.C. that African American girls were allowed to attend. She graduated high school from this school in 1869. After graduating from high school, she didn't go straight to working on becoming a lawyer. Ray actually taught at Howard University for her first job. Later that year, she studied law at Howard and graduated on February 27, 1872, with a degree in law. Upon graduating, she became the first woman to ever graduate from Howard Law School, and only the third woman to graduate from any law school.


The same year she graduated, the District of Columbia Bar Association removed their previous requirement to be a male, which made Ray the first female admitted to practice law in D.C., and the first Black female to become a certified lawyer in the United States. Three years later, in 1875, Ray became an advocate for Women's Suffrage in the U.S. She later opened up her very own law firm. Unfortunately, she had to shut down her firm not too long after it opened. Due to racial bias, Ray was not getting enough clients to keep it running. Later that year, on June 3, she had her very first case, where she helped a woman file for a divorce. This was a Supreme Court case, making her the first woman, and by default, the first African American woman to argue a case in D.C.'s Supreme Court. In 1876, the National Women's Suffrage Association a delegate.

Little is known about the remainder of Ray's career and her life. She moved back to New York City in 1879, and she later married in 1886, taking the last name Fraim. Fraim joined the National Association of Colored Women in 1894, and in 1897, she moved to a suburb of Long Island, New York called Woodside. On January 4, 1911, Charlotte E. Ray died of a bronchitis infection.

Ray broke barriers and tackled her obstacles. She laid the foundation for many Black lawyers to come.