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Anna Taylor Sweringen/Michal Scott: A Little Strategem Will Do Ya – Charlotte E. Ray, First African-American Female Lawyer (Contest)
Friday, May 19th, 2023

UPDATE: The winner is…Sara D!

When I learned how Charlotte E. Ray engineered her success, the old Brylcreem hairdressing advertising slogan came to mind, “A Little Dab’ll Do Ya.” Her use of initials rather than her full name allowed Charlotte to attend the male-only bastion of Howard Law School, graduate in 1872, and eventually become not only the first African-American female lawyer in the United States, but the third American woman of any race to earn a law degree.

One of six children born to Charlotte Augusta Burroughs and Rev. Charles Bennett Ray, Charlotte was born in 1850 in New York City. Charlotte’s family enrolled her in one of the few schools at the time that educated girls, the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth in Washington D.C. There Charlotte took teacher training which enabled her to enroll as a teacher trainee at Howard University.

In 1869, she taught at Howard University’s Prep School, the Normal and Preparatory Department. Knowing of their law school’s bias against women, Charlotte applied to the law department as C.E. Ray. Her stratagem worked, and she was accepted. There is some dispute about whether or not this story is true, but from what I’ve read about her, I believe it. While pursuing her law studies, she continued teaching at the prep school. In 1872 she was the first woman to graduate from the law school. She specialized in commercial and corporate law. After passing the bar exams, she became the first woman admitted to the bar to practice in the District of Columbia and the first African-American woman lawyer in the US.

In 1875, Martha Gadley, an African-American woman whose petition for divorce from an abusive husband was denied, decided to appeal the decision and hired Charlotte Ray to represent her. Ray argued the case before the District of Columbia Supreme Court and won. This victory however could not overcome the discrimination against African-Americans and women Charlotte faced, and she had to close her practice by 1879. She moved back to New York and became a teacher in Brooklyn.

Besides her law practice, Charlotte participated in social justice movements of her day. She attended the National Woman Suffrage Association’s (NWSA) annual convention in New York City in 1876, and she joined the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in 1895.

Records show she married in 1886 and became Charlotte Ray Fraim but had no children. In 1911, she died of bronchitis in Woodside NY.

I never cease to be amazed at how the women of this era refused to be cowed by societal expectations. Charlotte Ray’s victories are now recognized and celebrated. I’m glad her little stratagem enabled her to get what she strove for.

For a chance at a $10 Amazon gift card, leave a comment on Charlotte’s life or on the life of any woman you know who let a little stratagem do her.

“Take Me To The Water” by Michal Scott from Silver Soldiers

Silver Soldiers

SILVER SOLDIERS: A BOYS BEHAVING BADLY ANTHOLOGY will satisfy the reader who craves stories with older alpha male heroes—those salt-and-pepper hotties with crow’s feet earned through rugged training and years of combat. Former soldiers finding their footing after their first careers, or current soldiers nearing the end of their military careers. They’re ready to find the right partner to put down roots, ones who aren’t afraid of scars and rough edges.

Excerpt from “Take Me to the Water”…

That pitiable wreck of a man wasn’t her Ambrose.

Older, grayer, leaner, of course. She was older, grayer, leaner, too.
But the figure hunched in that corner of Douglass Fellowship Hall wasn’t her Ambrose.

Her Ambrose had never hidden, never cowered, never shunned attention even though he’d never sought it.

What had prison done to him? What had all these years of absence done to him? Why had she received no answer to her letters? Why had he stayed away when he had been released?

He’s not your Ambrose anymore. That’s why.

She closed her mind to that lie. In his eyes—despite the pain and sorrow etched on his face—she saw her Ambrose.

In whom she’d always taken her delight.

How many Christmases ago had it been when their bodies had become one, when their souls had soared, when their future had been assured? How many had passed since she’d learned of his release? How many had she stood in this window and waited for him to come back to her?

To come back home.

For hadn’t that been what he and she were to one another? What he and she had claimed to be for one another the night he’d left to fight in the West?


18 comments to “Anna Taylor Sweringen/Michal Scott: A Little Strategem Will Do Ya – Charlotte E. Ray, First African-American Female Lawyer (Contest)”

  1. Debra Guyette
    · May 19th, 2023 at 7:36 am · Link

    I am sorry she had to work so hard to do what she wanted. Our skin covers us but we are all the same inside.

  2. Sara D
    · May 19th, 2023 at 7:41 am · Link

    I love C E Ray aka Charlotte’s story. It shows that women who fight for what they believe can make a difference a little at a time. Clara Barton (1821-1912) was another woman who showed that women could change the world by being a nurse during the American Civil War who fought for the right to work on the front lines and founded the American Red Cross.

  3. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · May 19th, 2023 at 9:42 am · Link

    So true, Debra. I live in hope that one day this truth will sink in for everyone. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · May 19th, 2023 at 9:43 am · Link

    Clara Barton’s fight to found the American Red Cross is truly inspirational. Thanks for sharing, Sara D.

  5. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · May 19th, 2023 at 9:44 am · Link

    As always thanks letting me post on your blog, Delilah.

  6. flchen
    · May 19th, 2023 at 3:14 pm · Link

    Wow, good for Charlotte–I don’t think she’s the first or last woman to have to resort to using initials or a similar stratagem to level the playing field, alas. Thank you for bringing her work to the light, Anna! It can feel disheartening that at times, we feel that we continue to fight some of the same injustices, where I would hope we would have progressed more permanently…

  7. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · May 19th, 2023 at 5:51 pm · Link

    So true flchen. Charlotte’s story and the story of others like her just remind me that the struggle for justice is that of a lifetime. Thanks for commenting.

  8. Mary Preston
    · May 19th, 2023 at 6:40 pm · Link

    I am seriously impressed.

  9. BN
    · May 19th, 2023 at 6:41 pm · Link

    interesting person

  10. Diane Sallans
    · May 19th, 2023 at 8:24 pm · Link

    another little known story of a woman who persevered to achiever her goals in a male dominated profession – I’ve read about women who disguised themselves as males in order to be soldiers in the American Revolution and the Civil War and also to be able to attend medical school.

  11. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · May 19th, 2023 at 10:09 pm · Link

    Me too, Mary. Thanks for commenting.

  12. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · May 19th, 2023 at 10:10 pm · Link

    Thanks for the appreciation BN. Charlotte truly is an interesting person.

  13. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · May 19th, 2023 at 10:16 pm · Link

    I agree Diane. These stories are awe-inspiring. Thanks for commenting.

  14. ButtonsMom
    · May 22nd, 2023 at 8:47 pm · Link

    I always enjoy reading your posts on Delilah’s blog as they are very informative.

  15. Jennifer Beyer
    · May 22nd, 2023 at 8:48 pm · Link

    I have a friend that has slowly, one step at a time accumulated the designations she needs to be an expert in her field. She did it quietly and with dignity until one day she surprised everyone that she was the expert they all needed. Now she helps other people get to that finish line.

  16. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · May 22nd, 2023 at 10:24 pm · Link

    So glad you do, ButtonsMom. Thanks for commenting.

  17. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · May 22nd, 2023 at 10:25 pm · Link

    What a wonderful testimony, Jennifer. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Delilah
    · May 27th, 2023 at 10:38 pm · Link

    Thanks to everyone who replied, and thanks to Anna for another great, edifying post!

    The winner is…Sara D!

Comments are closed.