Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin

Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin was an American community leader and women’s rights activist who focused particularly on issues affecting African-American women.


Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on August 31, 1842. At the age of 16 she married George Ruffin, and the couple soon became active in the abolitionist movement. After her husband's death, Josephine would continue her social activism through the formation of numerous associations, including the Women's New Era Club and the Massachusetts School Suffrage Association. She died on March 13, 1924.

Early Life

Born on August 31, 1842, in Boston, Massachusetts, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin spent much of her life fighting against racial and gender discrimination. Her father was of African descent, and her mother came from a white English background. Ruffin's family was a part of Boston society.

In 1858, Josephine married George L. Ruffin, a pioneering African American lawyer. George was one of the first African Americans to graduate from Harvard Law School. He also became one of the state's first black judges. Josephine and George had five children together—four of them lived to adulthood. The couple was active in the abolitionist movement and counted such activists as William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass among their friends.

Ruffin spent the rest of her life working for the causes she believed in. She died of nephritis, a kidney infection, on March 13, 1924, in Boston, Massachusetts.

Leading Social Activist

In 1879, Ruffin created the Boston Kansas Relief Association. The organization was dedicated to helping African Americans settle in Kansas. After the death of her husband in 1888, Ruffin became even more involved in social activism. She became the editor of The Woman's Era, a newspaper devoted to the needs and concerns of African American women.

In 1894, Ruffin formed the Women's New Era Club of Boston and served as its first president. She also brought together several African-American women's groups for the First National Conference of Colored Women in 1895. The following year, the National Federation of Afro-American Women, the Woman's Era Clubs of Boston and the Colored Women's League of Washington, D.C., merged to become the National Association of Colored Women.

Ruffin was also active in the women's suffrage and the temperance movements. She was member of the Massachusetts School Suffrage Association and the Massachusetts Moral Education Association. Through these organizations, Ruffin became acquainted with Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone. She may have been accepted into clubs for white women, but she still faced racial prejudice.

In 1900, the organizers for the General Federation of Women's Clubs would not allow her to attend as a representative of an African-American women's group. Ruffin was permitted to enter using her credentials from the white organizations she belonged to, but she refused. Other women of color were turned away as well. According to African American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, Ruffin broke with fellow activist Booker T. Washington when he didn't challenge the organizers of the federal convention on their discriminatory practices.

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