Black History Month: Celebrating Charlotte E. Ray

In celebration of Black History Month, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is honoring black legal leaders and trailblazers who have advanced civil rights and who continue to inspire advocates to work for justice and equality today.    

Charlotte E. Ray

Charlotte E. Ray (January 13, 1850 – January 4, 1911)

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.

But some trailblazers chose to fight and overcome these structural barriers – including one of the District’s own daughters. Charlotte E. Ray became the first African-American woman to graduate from a law school, and the first to formally practice law in the United States.

Charlotte Ray graduated from the 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.

Though the legal profession in the United States has come a long way since Charlotte Ray’s time, it unfortunately remains disproportionately white and male. Women of color continue to face barriers to entry and advancement, and in recent years, the American Bar Association has found that black women only make up less than one percent of law firm partners and 2.32 percent of law firm associates.

At OAG, we are working to change the face of the legal profession—and that means attracting, retaining and advancing the most diverse and talented pool of attorneys possible, including many women of color. Our Chief Deputy Attorney General and the heads of four of our ten legal divisions are black women, and our office regularly creates opportunities for diversity appreciation, legal networking, and growth and advancement for attorneys at all levels. In addition to leading by example at OAG, Attorney General Racine strongly encourages young people from diverse backgrounds to consider careers in the law. He also speaks to legal groups around the country about how they can level the playing field and live up to the ideals of equality and justice in the legal field.

If you are interested in opportunities to not only serve the public interest, but also to advance your career by working with some of the best legal minds in Washington, browse OAG’s job opportunities.