Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

By Philip S. Foner; Robert James Branham | Go to book overview

132
ADDRESS TO THE FIRST NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF COLORED WOMEN

St. Josephine Pierre Ruffin

In a widely published response to Ida B. Wells's antilynching campaign, John Jacks, president of the Missouri Press Association, denounced black women as "wholly devoid of morality" and as "prostitutes, thieves and liars" ( Wesley, The History of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, 28). Influential black newspaper editor and clubwoman Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin circulated copies of Jacks's letter in her call for African American women "to stand before the world and declare ourselves and our principles." One hundred women from ten states met, forming the basis for the first national organization of black women.

Ruffin ( 1842-1924) was born in Boston and schooled in Salem until the desegregation of Boston's schools in 1855. She and her husband, lawyer and judge George Lewis Ruffin, lived in England for several years, then returned to Boston. They were friends of Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison and active in many civil rights and charitable causes.

Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin was a member of the New England Women's Club, founded by Julia Ward Howe, and worked closely with Howe, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony in campaigns for women's suffrage. After the death of her husband in 1886, Ruffin became an editor for the Boston Courier, an African American weekly journal. In 1894, she founded the Women's New Era Club, a charitable association of sixty prominent Bostonians of color, and edited its monthly publication, the Woman's Era.

Ruffin bitterly resented the exclusion of women of color from most white-dominated national women's organizations. In 1900, when she attended the Milwaukee convention of the General Federation of Women's Clubs as the delegate for three groups, two predominantly white and one African American, southern white women prevented representation of the New Era Club. Ruffin refused to accept the offer that she attend as representative of the two white-dominated clubs and withdrew from the convention under protest.

Ruffin organized and convened the First National Conference of Colored Women at the Charles Street A.M.E. Church in Boston in 1895. Its primary business was the planning of a national organization that would unite the many African American women's clubs that had emerged in the previous decade. In her address to the conference participants on July

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