Published on: Friday, February 9, 2024

Charlotte E. Ray (born January 13, 1850 - January 4, 1911) became the first African-American woman to graduate from a law school, and the first to formally practice law in the United States in 1872.

In the 19th century, most women – and particularly women of color – were barred from the legal profession. They were forbidden from enrolling in law schools and from obtaining licenses to practice law across the United States. The legal profession was largely controlled by, and reserved for, wealthy white men.

Charlotte Ray graduated from Howard University School of Law in 1872 and was admitted to the District of Columbia bar. This made her one of the first women of any race to practice law in the District. At the peak of her legal career, Ray opened her own law office in the District but was forced to close her practice because, as a woman of color, she could not obtain enough business to sustain it.

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In celebration of Black History Month, the Training Division is honoring black legal minds in the United States who have advanced civil rights and continue to inspire advocates to dismantle systems of oppression and work for a better tomorrow.