because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Friday, August 3, 2012

Charlotte Ray

Born to a middle class African-American minister and newspaper editor and his White wife in New York City in 1850, Charlotte Ray was given the benefit of an excellent education and became a teacher herself at the Howard University Preparatory School while still a young woman. But that wasn't enough for Ray, a Phi Beta Kappa scholar, so she enrolled in the Howard University Law School, specializing in commercial law, and passed the bar in 1872, still in her early twenties.

It was forever an uphill struggle for Ray to get clients because folks simply didn't believe that a woman lawyer could adequately represent them in or out of court. Still, she managed to work her way up to arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court, an honor afforded few lawyers. And she was known for accepting cases others might not, such as the one involving an uneducated woman who was suing for divorce from her physically abusive husband.

Some say Charlotte Ray got admitted to Howard University Law School by applying as C. E. Ray, rather than using her full name. Others say it wouldn't have mattered because she was so smart (even though few women were being admitted to law school anywhere at that time). What is for sure, however, is that in-your-face women like Charlotte Ray don't consider the standard parameters of society as boundaries beyond which they cannot go. In fact, it sometimes seems that they see those parameters as nothing more than a place to begin. Ha!

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