Born on January 13, 1850, in New York City. In 1872, Charlotte E. Ray became the first female African-American lawyer in the United States. She grew up in a large family as one of seven children. Her father, Charles, was a minister and an activist in the abolitionist movement.
Ray attended the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth in Washington, D.C., during the early 1860s. The institution was one of only a handful of places that offered a quality education to young, African-American women. By the end of the 1860s, she had become a teacher at the preparatory school associated with Howard University. Ray then applied to the university’s law degree program using only her initials, C. E., to disguise her gender. The trick worked, and Ray gained admittance to the program. She excelled at her studies at the university, especially in corporate law.
Shortly after graduating from Howard University in 1872, Ray became one of the first women admitted to the District of Columbia Bar. She also was the first woman permitted to argue cases in front of the Supreme Court in the capital. Ray opened her own law office that same year, specializing in commercial law. Unfortunately, Ray only practiced for a few years because of the widespread prejudices of the time. It was too difficult for her, as an African-American woman, to attract enough clients to keep her practice going.
In 1879, Ray moved to New York where she worked as a teacher in the Brooklyn public schools. She married soon after, taking her husband’s last name, Fraim. Ray championed a number of social causes outside of her classroom, becoming involved in the women’s suffrage movement and joining the National Association of Colored Women. She died on January 4, 1911, in Woodside, New York.