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March 2018 - President's Message
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President's Message - MARCH

Amy T. Brantly
WLALA President 2017-2018

 


March is Women’s History month.  As a lover of history, I decided that I wanted to highlight a historic female lawyer and began my search for the perfect subject.  There were so many women lawyers that led the way for the rest of us, were true pioneers and stood tall in the face of adversity.  One of those stood out to me because she was not only a woman, but a black woman growing up in turbulent times in our nation’s history.  Facing extreme prejudice, she defied odds by becoming a corporate lawyer.

Charlotte Ray was born in New York City in 1850.[1]  She grew up in a large family of seven children.[2]  Her father was a minister and an abolitionist.[3]  He helped slaves escape through the underground railroad and edited an abolitionist publication.[4]  He insisted that his daughters go to college which is extraordinary in the 1860’s.[5]  Charlotte attended the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth in Washington D.C., which was one of only a few places at the time that offered quality education to young, African-American women.[6]  After graduating and teaching at a preparatory school associated with Howard University, Charlotte applied to Howard University’s law program as C.E. Ray (some speculate in order to conceal her gender) and was admitted.[7]  Charlotte excelled in law school and one of her classmates described her as “an apt scholar.”[8] 

Charlotte was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar in 1872 and was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia that same year.[9]  She also earned distinction as being the first woman to be granted permission to argue cases before the United States Supreme Court.[10]

She specialized in corporate law starting her own practice and advertising in newspapers such as Frederick Douglass’s New National Era and Citizen.[11]  Despite her specialization in corporate law, she occasionally represented women in family disputes.  For example, Charlotte represented an uneducated woman in a divorce proceeding based on the husband’s abuse, cruelty and “habitual drunkenness.”[12]  Charlotte’s petition in that case described a violent scene in which the husband “went down the stairs, got an ax and returning, ripped up the planks in the floor” with the intention of causing his wife to fall through the floor and break her neck.[13]  Although Charlotte was an able lawyer and named by many as “one of the best lawyers on corporations in the country,” she was unable to maintain a steady flow of clients as many were unwilling to trust a black woman with their cases.[14]  Charlotte eventually returned to teaching in the Brooklyn school system.[15]  While teaching, Charlotte became involved in the women’s suffrage movement and joined the National Association of Colored Women.[16]

Women like Charlotte Ray paved the way for all of us, undoubtedly facing adversity that we have not endured because of their leadership and hard work.  During this month we say rightly say, “Thank you.”

I hope that all of you will join us and our sister bar organizations in celebration of Women’s History month on March 15th at Taix.  We will mingle, get to know each other, celebrate all that we have in common and thank those who came before us.    



[1] https://www.biography.com/people/charlotte-e-ray-11380; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_E._Ray

[2] https://www.biography.com/people/charlotte-e-ray-11380

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] https://www.biography.com/people/charlotte-e-ray-11380; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_E._Ray

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] https://www.biography.com/people/charlotte-e-ray-11380

[9] https://www.biography.com/people/charlotte-e-ray-11380; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_E._Ray

[10] https://www.biography.com/people/charlotte-e-ray-11380

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_E._Ray

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.