Henrietta Cordelia Ray

University Of City Of New York.

University of City of New York, attended by Ray. 

Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. "University Of City Of New York." New York Public Library Digital Collections

Henrietta Cordelia Ray (1852?-1916) was a notable African-American teacher, biographer, and poet. Cordelia was named in memory of Henrietta Regulus, Charles B. Ray’s first wife, who regularly participated in Ladies’ Literary and benevolence societies. Following in her parents footsteps, Ray became active in community-building and political activism. In 1860, she was enthusiastically praised in newspapers for successfully raising funds for New York’s Colored Orphan Asylum Fair in New York City.1 Like her father, Ray was formally educated. She attended the University of City of New York and the Sauvener School of Languages where she received teaching licenses.2 She taught for the New York City public school system, tutored students, and, upon retirement, taught English classes for teachers.3

H. Cordelia Ray gained national attention as a poet, writer, and activist during the late nineteenth century. In 1887, she and her sister, Florence co-penned Sketch of the life of Rev. Charles B. Ray.” Ray subsequently published two volumes of poetry, Sonnets (1893) and Poems (1910), where nature, piety, and idealism were often subjects of her verse. Her biographical writing and political affiliations place her among a cohort of abolitionist biographer daughters. William Wells Brown's daughter, Josephine Brown, published Biography of An American Bondman, By His Daughter in 1856, and Serena A. M. Washington published George Thomas Downing: Sketch of His Life and Times in 1910.

Cordelia Ray’s poetry and social activities are well documented in the American press. Ray is perhaps best remembered for her contributions to emancipation celebration and memorial writing. On April 14, 1876, William E. Matthews read her eight-line ode, “Lincoln” at the Freedman’s Monument ceremony where Frederick Douglass was the keynote speaker.4 In addition to her work appearing in publications, such as the A.M.E. Church Review, Cordelia Ray regularly attended soirées with elite free Blacks, such as the Downings and the Reasons. She is also documented in the American press as having organized and participated in regional and national conferences for African-American teachers in the last two decades of the nineteenth century.


Written by Sarah Patterson, Black Literary History, Spring 2013, P. Gabrielle Foreman


[1] Sterling, Dorothy. We Are Your Sisters, p. 118.

[2] Bolden, Tony. “Biographies.” Schomberg Library of African-American Women Writers of the Nineteenth-century.

[3] Sherman, Joan. “Introduction.” Collection of Black Women’s Poetry, p. xxix.

[4] Sherman, Joan. “Introduction.” Collection of Black Women’s Poetry, p. xxix.