Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin

A Black American leader from New England who was a suffragist, fought slavery, recruited Black soldiers to fight for the North in the Civil War, and founded and edited a magazine, Josephine Ruffin is best known for her central role in starting and sustaining the role of clubs for Black women.

The wife of the first Black American to graduate from Harvard Law School and who became the first Black municipal judge, Ruffin raised four children and was actively involved in the Civil War and Black rights. She also served on the Board of the Massachusetts Moral Education
Association and the Massachusetts School Suffrage Association, working closely with other New England women leaders, including Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone.

Her particular interest was the development of Black women in New England and nationwide, and in 1894 she organized the Women’s Era Club, among the very first Black women’s organizations.

In 1895, she convened in Boston a conference of representatives of other national groups, which organized the National Federation of Afro-
American Women. It mission was to demonstrate the existence of a large number of educated, cultured Black women. At its founding meeting she said, “…we are women, American women, as intensely interested in all that pertains to us as such as all other American women; we are not alienating or withdrawing, we are only coming to the front, willing to join any others in the same work and welcoming any others to join us.”

In 1896 this group merged with the Colored Women’s League of Washington, forming the National Association of Colored Women; Ruffin was elected first vice-president. Continued resistance of all-white national women’s clubs reinforced her commitment to the importance of the Black clubwomen’s movement, and she remained an active participant throughout her life.

Ruffin was also active in the founding of the Boston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and of the League of Women for Community Service.

Year Honored: 1995
Birth: 1842 - 1924
Achievements: Humanities