Charlotte E. Ray (January 13, 1850 – January 4, 1911) was the first Black American female lawyer in the United States. Ray graduated from Howard University School of Law in 1872. She was also the first female admitted to the District of Columbia Bar, and the first woman admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. Her admission was used as a precedent by women in other states who sought admission to the bar.
Ray opened her own law office, advertising in a newspaper run by Frederick Douglass. She was involved in the women's suffrage movement & joined the National Association of Colored Women.
Ray was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar on March 2, 1872, & admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia on April 23, 1872. Her appointment was noted in the Woman's Journal & gained her inclusion as one of the Women of the Century. Ray began her independent practice of commercial law in 1872, advertising in newspapers such as the New National Era & Citizen, owned by Frederick Douglass.
She was the first woman to practice and argue in the District of Columbia Supreme Court, where she pleaded the case of Gadley v. Gadley (vt. Godling v. Godling), No. 4278, filed June 3, 1875. In this case, she defended an uneducated woman petitioning for divorce from an abusive husband. The arguments were based on the grounds of "habitual drunkenness" & "cruelty of treatment, endangering the life or health of the party complaining". Ray's petition vividly evokes the violence of the marriage, describing an incident in which the husband first broke the bedstead, so that the wife lay down on the floor, & then "went down stairs, got an ax and returning, ripped up the planks in the floor", with the intention of causing his wife to fall through & break her neck.
Charlotte Ray was said to be eloquent, authoritative, & "one of the best lawyers on corporations in the country."
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