Elizabeth A. Moorehead
H. Cordelia Ray, as she signed her name, was born into a clerical family, the youngest of three surviving daughters of the influential abolitionist and activist Reverend Charles Bennett Ray and Charlotte Augusta Burrough. Reverend Ray was the editor of the Colored American and active in the abolition, temperance, suffrage, and education movements, besides serving as minister in the Congregational Church for twenty years. Dates listed in various sources for Cordelia Ray's birth range from 1849 to 1852. Raised in an educated and prominent African-American family, Ray studied Greek, Latin, French, and German at the Sauveneur School of Languages. In 1891, she earned a master's degree in pedagogy from the University of the City of New York. She taught in the New York public schools and tutored students in languages, English literature, music, and mathematics. After Ray retired from public school teaching, she continued tutoring individuals and small groups from her home in Woodside, Long Island.
Ray received her widest public recognition as a poet when her long ode, " Lincoln; Written for the Occasion of the Unveiling of the Freedmen's Monument in Memory of Abraham Lincoln, April 14, 1876," was read at the unveiling of the monument in Washington, D.C. Her poem circulated widely and was eventually published in 1893. Ray published two books of poetry, Sonnets in 1893 and Poems in 1910. Many of the poems in Sonnets appear also in Poems. In addition, she published poems in periodicals. With her sister Florence, Ray also wrote a biography of her father, Sketch of the Life of the Reverend Charles B. Ray, published in 1887. This public collaboration between the sisters expresses their lifelong private collaboration; neither married, and they lived together until Florence's death. Ray never sought public acclaim, preferring to