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Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin
Born 31 August 1842(1842-08-31)
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Died 13 March 1924 (aged 81)
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Occupation Publisher, journalist, activist
Spouse(s) George Lewis Ruffin (m. 1858–1886) «start: (1858)–end+1: (1887)»"Marriage: George Lewis Ruffin to Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin" Location: (linkback:
Children Hubert, Florida Ridley, Stanley, George, and Robert
Parents John St. Pierre and Elizabeth Matilda Menhenick

Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (31 August 1842 – 13 March 1924) was an American publisher, journalist, African American civil rights leader, suffragist, and editor for Women’s Era, the first newspaper published by and for African American women. Her husband, George Lewis Ruffin was the first African-American male graduate from Harvard Law School and the first African-American municipal judge.


Early years[]

Ruffin was born in Boston, Massachusetts to John St. Pierre, a Frenchman from Martinique of African descent, and Elizabeth Matilda Menhenick from Cornwall, England. Her father was a successful clothier and founder of a Boston Zion church. She attended public schools in Charleston and Salem, and a private school in New York City because of her parents' objections to the segregated schools in Boston. She completed her studies at the Bowdoin School, not to be confused with Bowdoin College, after segregation in Boston schools ended.

In 1858 Ruffin married George Lewis Ruffin (1834–1886), the first African-American to graduate from Harvard Law School, and the first African American to serve on the Boston City Council, the Massachusetts state legislature, and as Boston's first black municipal judge. The couple was active in the struggle against slavery and, during the Civil War, they helped recruit black soldiers for the Union Army, the Mass 54th and 55th regiments. The couple also worked for the Sanitation Commission. In 1858 they bought a house on Boston's Beacon Hill, and began a family.


Ruffin supported women's suffrage and, in 1869, joined with Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone to form the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) in Boston. A group of these women, Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone also founded the New England Women's Club in 1868. Josephine Ruffin was its first bi-racial member when she joined in the mid 1890's. Josephine also wrote for the black weekly paper, The Courant and became a member of the New England Woman's Press Association.

When George Lewis Ruffin died at the age of 52 in 1884, Josephine used her financial security and organizational abilities to start Woman's Era, the country's first newspaper published by and for African American women. While promoting interracial activities, Woman's Era called on black women to demand increased rights for their race.

In 1895, Ruffin organized the National Federation of Afro-American Women. She convened the first national conference in Boston, which was attended by 100 women from 20 clubs in 10 states. The following year, the organization merged with the Colored Women's League to form the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). Mary Church Terrell was elected president and Ruffin served as one of the organization's vice-presidents.

In 1894, Ruffin organized the Women's Era Club, an advocacy group for black women, with the help of her daughter Florida Ridely and Maria Baldwin, a Boston school principal. From 1890 to 1897, Ruffin served as the editor and publisher of Woman's Era, the first newspaper published by, and for, African-American women. The paper highlighted the achievements of African-American women and championed black women's rights.

Just as the NACW was forming, Joesphine Ruffin was desegregating the New England Woman's Club, and when the General Federation of Woman's Clubs met in Milwaukee in 1900, she planned to attend as a representative of three organizations – the New Era Club, the New England Woman's Club and the New England Woman's Press Club. But Southern women were in positions of power in the General Federation, and when the Executive Committee discovered that all of the New Era's club members were black women, they would not accept Ruffin's credentials. Ruffin was told that she could be seated as a representative of the two white clubs but not the black one. She refused on principle and was excluded from the proceedings. These events became known as "The Ruffin Incident" and were widely covered in newspapers around the country, most of whom supported Ruffin. Afterwards, the Woman's Era Club made an official statement "that colored women should confine themselves to their clubs and the large field of work open to them there."

The New Era Club was disbanded in 1903 but Ruffin remained active in the struggle for equal rights and, in 1910, helped form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Ruffin was one of the charter members of NAACP and, along with other women who had belonged to the New Era Club, she co-founded the League of Women for Community Service which still exists today.

Personal life[]

Josephine and George Lewis Ruffin were married in 1858 when she was sixteen years old. Together, they had five children: Hubert, an attorney; Florida Ridley, a school principal and co-founder of Women's Era; Stanley, an inventor; George, a musician; and Robert, who died in his first year of life. Ruffin remained active for up to the time of her death in Boston in 1924.


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