An African-American leader from New England who was a suffragist, fought slavery, recruited African-American 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 African-American women.
The wife of the first African-American man to graduate from Harvard Law School and who became the first African-American municipal judge, Ruffin raised four children and was actively involved in the Civil War and African-American 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 African-American women in New England and nationwide, and in 1894 she organized the Women’s Era Club, among the very first African-American 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. Its mission was to demonstrate the existence of a large number of educated, cultured African-American 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 African-American 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.