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Copyright (c) 1997 Howard University
Howard Law Journal

ARTICLE: Black Women Lawyers: 125 Years at the Bar; 100 Years in the Legal Academy

Winter, 1997

40 How. L.J. 365


J. Clay Smith, Jr. *


In 1833, Maria Stewart posed a question that is relevant today: "When I cast my eyes on the long list of illustrious names of fame among the whites, I turn my eyes within, and ask my thoughts, 'Where are the names of our illustrious ones?'" 1


I. The Beginning

A. Charlotte E. Ray
The accomplishments of the modern black woman cannot be fully explored without paying tribute to the illustrious Charlotte E. Ray, the world's first black woman lawyer.

In 1872 The Woman's Journal wrote:

In the City of Washington, where a few years ago colored wo men were bought and sold under sanction of law, a woman of Afri can descent has been admitted to practice at the bar of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. Miss Charlotte E. Ray, who has the honor of being the first lady lawyer in Washington, is a grad uate of the Law College of Howard University, and is said to be a dusky mulatto and possesses quite an intelligent countenance ... 2

Born on January 13, 1850 into a country gripped and drunken with slavery and its atrocities, Charlotte E. Ray became the first black woman admitted to practice law in the United States. She was the first black woman to graduate from an American law school and the first woman lawyer admitted to the bar of the District of Columbia. 3 This is a tremendous accomplishment given that the District of Co lumbia had just ten years earlier abolished ...
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