Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (1842-1924)

Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, 1902

Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin was born into one of Boston’s leading families on August 31, 1842.  St. Pierre’s mother was an English-born white woman and her father was from the island of Martinique, and founder of the Boston Zion Church.  The St. Pierre’s sent their young daughter to Salem where the schools were integrated due mainly to the work of John Lenox Remond.

At age sixteen, Josephine St. Pierre married George Lewis Ruffin, a barber who later became the first African American to graduate from Harvard Law School. Later, he was on the Boston City Council, in the state legislature, and the first black municipal judge in Boston. After marriage, she graduated from a Boston finishing school and completed two years of private tutoring in New York.  During the Civil War, the Ruffins were involved in various charity works and civil rights causes. St. Pierre Ruffin was involved in the women’s suffrage movement and worked with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

From 1890 through 1897, St. Pierre Ruffin edited Women’s Era, the first newspaper published by and for African American women.  She also founded the “Women’s Era Club,” along with Florida Ruffin Ridley, her daughter, and Maria Baldwin, principal of Agassiz High School in Cambridge.  Believing that a national organization for black women was needed, she convened the first annual convention in 1895 which drew 100 women from 20 clubs across the United States.  She named the organization the National Federation of Afro-American Women, which a year later united with the Colored Women’s League to become the National Association of Colored WomenMary Church Terrell was the organization’s president, while Ruffin and several others served as vice-presidents.

Although the Women’s Era Club later disbanded, Ruffin remained active and became one of the founding members of the Boston NAACP in 1910. Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin died in Boston on March 13, 1924.