Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Charlotte B. Ray, 1813-1891


By Dani Williams-Jones, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Undergraduate Research Fellow, Departments of History and African American Studies

Charlotte Augusta Burroughs Ray was a dedicated suffragist and church woman. Born near Savannah, GA, very little is known about the circumstances of her birth. She wholeheartedly dedicated her life to advocating on behalf of a woman's right to vote. Her mission was one that was firmly rooted in Christian theology. The archive is limited in its ability to fully capture the breadth of her contributions to Black women and their liberation. Her faith was of great importance to her and served as a prime motivator to her activism.

Ray was married to Charles Bennet Ray in 1840. He was a renowned journalist, clergyman, entrepreneur and abolitionist. Charlotte's marriage to Charles would produce seven children. Two of her daughters, Charlotte and Florence would go on to become the first two Black female attorneys in the nation. Charles Ray was a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, as well as the pastor of New York's Bethesda Congregational Church. His social and political activism also led to his position as the editor of the Colored American, an abolitionist newspaper. Inspired by her husband's activism; her duties as a First Lady did not preclude her from joining and becoming an active member in the American Equal Rights Association (AERA). Her attendance and participation at AERA conventions serves as a consummate attestation to her unwavering commitment to universal suffrage. As a Black woman, Ray knew first hand that Black women suffered all the legal disabilities of white women, yet their's was a more capricious conundrum which was compounded by their having survived the institution of chattel slavery.

Ray remained a faithful wife to her husband Charles and dedicated mother to her children. Despite the dearth of information regarding Charlotte Augusta Burroughs Ray's life, she was devoted to advancing the concerns of newly freed Black Americans, both men and women. Terborg-Penn (p. 50) asserts that with the dissolution of the AERA Charlotte B. Ray disappeared from public view.


Andolsen, Barbara Hilkert. Daughters of Jefferson, Daughters of Bootblacks: Racism and American Feminism. (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1986).

Gordon, Ann Dexter, and Bettye Collier-Thomas, eds. African American Women and the Vote, 1837-1965. (Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997.)

Logan, Rayford Whittingham, and Michael R. Winston, eds. Dictionary of American Negro Biography. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982.)

Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. Notable Black American Women. (Detroit: Gale, 1992) has bio sketches of two daughters of Charlotte B. Ray.

Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.)


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