Since our country’s inception, black women have been instrumental in shaping the law of the land. They overcame racial and gender barriers to become lawyers and judges, while using their influence to enact laws for the greater good of society. One legal eagle – a former slave – never went to law school, but possessed the innate ability to present oral arguments before the Supreme Court. These trailblazers reshaped the legal landscape in their pursuit of liberty and justice for all.
Charlotte Ray has the distinction of being the first black female lawyer in the United States. In 1869, she applied for admission to Howard University’s Law School under the name “C.E. Ray” since the university discouraged women from applying to law school. When Ray graduated from Howard in 1872 with a degree in commercial law, she was the first black woman – and only the third female in the United States – to receive a law degree. That same year, she also became the first woman admitted to the bar in the District of Columbia.