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DC's Civil Rights Champions: Charlotte E. Ray

Updated: Feb 23

This Black History Month, the DC Bar Foundation is recognizing three Black civil rights champions in DC whose work may not be widely known.

Today, we feature Charlotte E. Ray.

Charlotte E. Ray (1850-1911) was the first African-American woman lawyer in the United States, the first Black woman admitted to the District of Columbia Bar, and the first woman admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia (now the US District Court for the District of Columbia). She was also the first woman to graduate from Howard University School of Law, where she applied using the name C.E. Ray because of the university's hesitation to admit women into its law program.

Upon graduating, Ray opened a law office specializing in commercial law. She advertised her practice in a newspaper run by Frederick Douglass. Ms. Ray could not sustain her practice beyond a few years due to gender and racial discrimination.

She eventually worked as a teacher in Brooklyn, New York, and was an active member of the women's suffrage movement until her death in 1911 at 60 years old.

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