First Black Woman Licensed To Practice Law in N.C. Couldn’t Practice There Due to Racism. Now She Is Honored


An article by Face2Face Africa honors the legacy of our trailblazing alumna Ruth Whitehead Whaley ’24, the first Black woman licensed to practice law in North Carolina, and the honor she recently received recognizing her achievements.

In 1925 when Black Americans were still being marginalized by being denied access to various facilities and opportunities, Ruth Whitehead Whaley became one of the first Black women admitted to practice law in New York. She was also the first Black woman to enroll at Fordham Law School, where she graduated in 1924 at the top of her class.

Born in 1901, Whaley went to school in Goldsboro where her parents were teachers. After completing high school, she went to Livingstone College in Salisbury and later got married to Herman Whaley in 1920. It was her husband Herman Whaley who urged her to enroll in law school at Fordham University in New York, where she became the first African-American woman to study law and earn a law degree there.

A bio of Whaley by Fordham states: “The high expectations placed on black female lawyers by colleagues and the community, she wrote, were the ‘penalty usually exacted from a minority or from pioneers.’ And all female lawyers had to outperform their male counterparts, she quipped, lest one of those men ‘forgets to be gallant in his thinking and the overlooked errors of a male colleague become the colossal blunders of a woman.’”

At Fordham where she made history, students in the top 25 percent of each class at the School of Law are honored as Ruth Whitehead Whaley Scholars. What’s more, the Black Law Students Association bestows an annual Ruth Whitehead Whaley Trailblazing Alumnus Award, given to alumni who “embody Whitehead Whaley’s bold spirit and commitment to excellence.”

Read the full article.


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