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Thu, 08.30.1849

Henrietta Ray, Poet and Biographer born

Henrietta Ray's school,
University of the City of New York

The birth of Henrietta Ray in 1849 is celebrated on this date. She was a Black poet, teacher, and activist.

Henrietta Cordelia Ray was born in New York City, one of seven children of Charlotte Augusta Burrough and Charles B. Ray, a blacksmith, a Congregational minister, and a leading abolitionist. Young Ray was named after her father's first wife, Henrietta Green Regulus Ray, co-founder of the African Dorcas Association, a support group for the Free African Schools, and first president of the New York Female Literary Society (also known as the Colored Ladies Literary Society).

After graduating from the University of the City of New York in 1891 and the Sauvener School of Languages, she taught in the New York City public school system for many years.  Ray was culturally well-born and well-bred; she enjoyed many advantages accruing to her position in a family where birth, breeding, and culture were valuable. Ray also aspired to make her mark in literature, gaining major notice as a writer in April 1876.

The event was the unveiling of the Freedmen's Monument in Washington, D.C., where Frederick Douglass delivered the keynote address, and William E. Matthews read Ray's ode, "Lincoln." The second in a series of important family events was the graduation of Henrietta's older sister Charlotte from Howard University in 1872, making her the first black woman to earn a law degree.

Years later, Henrietta Cordelia Ray received praise for her biography of him, "Sketch of the Life of Rev. Charles B. Ray," published in 1887.

As the Reconstruction era began to close, Ray's poetry appeared in several periodicals, encouraging her to publish a complete collection. "Sonnets" was published in 1893, and "Poems," which contains "Sonnets," came out in 1910.

Regarding Ray's poetry, Hallie Q. Brown wrote that it "may be likened to the quaint, touching music a shell murmuring of the sea, a faint yet clear note sounding all the pathos and beauty of undying life."  Henrietta Cordelia Ray died in 1917.

To be a Writer



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