Charlotte E. Ray: Beyond the law
Sometimes there’s a heavy price to be paid for being an innovator. The greater the innovation, the greater the price to be paid. This is especially true for African-American women innovators, who not only braved the cruelty of racism, but also the harshness of sexism. How hard it must have been to come home after a long day facing racists, only to find the same hostile intolerance on the faces of men of your own race, even your own family. That’s how it was for Charlotte E. Ray (1850-1911), the first African-American female lawyer in the United States.
Ray was born in New York City to a father who was a minister and journalist, and a mother who partnered with her husband as conductors on the Underground Railroad. Getting a good education was important to Ray, so she attended one of the few schools that allowed women, the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth in Washington, D.C. Knowing that women had an even more difficult time being admitted to law school, she applied to Howard University as “C.E. Ray." She graduated in 1872 as a Phi Beta Kappa and passed her bar exam the same year. However, despite her ambition, discipline, courage, and intelligence, the first black female lawyer was unable to maintain a law practice.
She returned to New York City in 1879, and she became a teacher in the public schools as well as an activist with the National Women’s Suffrage Association and the National Women’s Suffrage Association. Eventually she married, moved to Long Island, and died at the age of 60 from bronchitis.
Maybe what makes Charlotte Ray especially admirable isn’t her historic milestone of being the first black female lawyer, but that in face of failure as a lawyer, she didn’t turn her back on the community that failed to support her dream, but renewed her commitment to making others' lives better. That is the definition of heroic.
for more info, check out Charlotte's wikipedia entry