Charlotte E. Ray born on January 13, 1850 in New York City to Charlotte Augusta Burroughs and Reverend Charles Bennett Ray (December 25, 1807 – August 15, 1886) . The only thing that is known about Charlotte mother, that she was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia. Charlotte father on the other hand was an important figure that wore many hats. Reverend Charles was a prominent New York abolitionist who help aided the Underground Railroad, he also was owner and editor of the “Colored American” newspaper, and he was the Pastor of the Bethesda Congregational Church.
Education was very important to the Ray’s family. Reverend Charles moved his family to Washington D.C, where Charlotte enrolled in the Institution of the Education of Colored Youth. After graduating from the Institutions in 1869 at the age 19, Howard University hired Charlotte as a teacher for it’s Preparatory and Normal Department, the part of the University that trained school teachers. Charlotte, however had bigger ambitions. Charlotte took notice that their was no African American women in law, so she enrolled into the Howard University Law school while still teaching at the University.
The university discouraged women to practice Law and Charlotte had to apply under the name “C.E. Ray” to disguise her gender. Charlotte excelled at her studies at Howard University of Law, especially in Corporate Law. After three years of law school Charlotte graduated Phi Beta Kappa and earned her law degree on February 27, 1872, becoming the first black woman to graduate from an American law school and receive a law degree. In Fact she was only the third woman of any race to complete law school.
Charlotte did not want to stop there, Charlotte achieved another first on April 23, 1872 when she was admitted to the bar in District of Columbia. Charlotte continued to break new ground later in life, she became the first woman to be granted permission to argue a case in front of the United States Supreme Court in the Capital. Where she plead the case of Gadley v. Gadley Filed on June 3, 1875.
Charlotte Started her own law office, specializing in commercial law. To attract clients, she advertised in a newspaper run by Frederick Douglass, a leader in the abolitionist movement. Yet despite her Howard connections, advertisements, and her legal knowledge and expertise on corporate law. People were unwilling to trust a black woman with their cases and because of the widespread prejudices of the time, Charlotte was unable to maintain a steady client flow and after just an few years of opening, Charlotte was force to close her door on her law business.
Charlotte became an advocate for women suffrage. She was a delegate to the 1876 conference of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association (NWSA).
In 1879, Charlotte moved back to New York, where she worked as a teacher in the Brooklyn public schools. Little is known about Charlotte’s personal life after she returned to New York. In 1886 at the age 36, Charlotte married a man named Fraim, but it’s not clear how long the marriage last. There was no children. In 1895 Charlotte joined the newly formed National Association of Colored Women (NACW). In 1897 Charlotte moved to a suburban community on Long Island, Woodside, New York, where she died of acute bronchitis on January 4, 1911 at the age 60.