Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin was born in 1842 into one of Boston’s most prominent black families. At the young age of 15, she became the wife of George Lewis Ruffin, who was the first African-American graduate of Harvard Law School.
Ruffin worked with white and black leaders, including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Booker T. Washington. She was involved in various activities, such as charity work, civil rights causes, and the women’s suffrage movement. Ruffin established the Boston Kansas Relief Association in 1879, a charity that provided food and aid to black Bostonians who were migrating to Kansas.
In 1890, Ruffin served as the editor and publisher of Woman’s Era, the first newspaper published by and for African-American women. The newspaper was used as a platform to highlight the achievements of black women and to fight for their rights. Ruffin later formed the Women’s Era Club, an advocacy group for black women.
In 1895, believing that a national organization for black women was needed, she convened the first annual convention in which over 100 women from 20 clubs across the United States attended. She named the organization the National Federation of Afro-American Women. The following year it 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. Ruffin died on March 13, 1924.