Florida Ruffin Ridley


Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists
Biographical Sketch of Florida Ruffin Ridley, 1861-1943


By Talia Sharpp, undergraduate student, Hampton University and Thomas Dublin

Florida Ruffin was born to Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and George Lewis Ruffin, both prominent figures in Boston society, in 1861. George Lewis Ruffin, a native of Richmond, Virginia, was the first African American to graduate from Harvard Law School; he later became the Charlestown Municipal Court Judge, and was a member of the Massachusetts Legislature and the Boston Common Council. Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin was an abolitionist, anti-lynching crusader, club leader, editor, feminist, suffragist, and orator. Florida Ruffin was one of four children born to Josephine St. Pierre and George Lewis Ruffin. As evidenced by her parents' many accomplishments, the Ruffin household greatly valued education, social justice, and civic engagement.

Florida Ruffin followed the examples set forth by her parents by graduating from Boston Teacher's College and Boston University, and becoming the second African American school teacher in the Boston Public Schools. Ruffin thrived in her career as an educator up until 1888, when she married Ulysses A. Ridley, a successful tailor in the city. Florida Ruffin Ridley and her husband settled in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1896, where they raised two children, Constance and Ulysses A. Ridley, Jr. The couple is recognized as the first African American homeowners in the town of Brookline, where they were also long-time members of the Second Unitarian Church.

Ridley was not your average society woman. With her mother, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Ridley served as co-editor of The Women's Era, recognized as the first magazine to be owned, managed, and published by African American women. The Women's Era was the official journal of the Woman's Era Club, of which Ridley and Ruffin were co-founders. Later the club merged into the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). Ridley worked very closely with her mother in their professional pursuits, and the two also collaborated to found the League of Women for Community Service. Separately, Ridley forged her own path as a club woman, civil rights activist, essayist, and journalist through her various publications on race relations in New England and the founding of the Society of the Descendants of Early New England Negroes. It was Ridley's hope that through her work she could utilize her passion for history to enhance her understanding of the issues surrounding social justice. Evident in the membership that Ridley also held in the Twentieth Century Club and the Women's City Club of Boston, both predominantly white clubs, was her belief that both races deserved an equal place in society.

Ridley was also active in support of the YWCA and its war work during World War 1, serving as a member of the Colored Work Committee of the YWCA and supporting the YWCA's

sponsoring of Hostess Houses for African American soldiers. She also worked at the YWCA Hostess House at Camp Upton on Long Island. By the war's end the YWCA had established sixteen Hostess Houses in close proximity to training camps for Black soldiers.

Ridley's activism continued well after the end of World War 1. In 1924 she campaigned on behalf of the Democratic presidential candidate, John W. Davis. She worked as secretary of the League of Women for Community Service until 1925 and served on the board of directors of the Robert Gould Shaw Settlement House. She founded the Society of the Descendants of Early New England Negroes and wrote extensively in Black history. Her publications appeared in many journals, including the Journal of Negro History. She also served as editor of Social Service News and was active in the Urban League.

Florida Ruffin Ridley died in her daughter's Ohio home on February 25, 1943. Her childhood home still stands, and is a stop on the Boston Women's Heritage Trail.


T.D. Carmichael, "Mrs. F. R. Ridley, Negro Educator, Dies in Toledo," The Boston Globe, February 26, 1943; Darlene Clark Hine, "Ruffin, Josephine," in Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia (Brooklyn: Carlson Publishing, 1993); Verner D. Mitchell and Cynthia Davis, Literary Sisters: Dorothy West and Her Circle, A Biography of the Harlem Renaissance (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2011); Bonnie Hurd Smith, "Beacon Hill," Boston Women's Heritage Trail, accessed online at http://www.bwht.org ; Roger Streitmatter, "Economic conditions surrounding nineteenth-century African-American women journalists: Two cases," Journalism History 18 (January 1992), 33-40.

Judith Weisenfeld, African American Women and Christian Activism: New York's Black YWCA, 1905-1945 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997).

Florida Ruffin Ridley, "Hostess House as a War Development," New York Age, 4 May 1918, p. 5.

National Park Service, "Florida Ruffin Ridley," accessible online at https://www.nps.gov/people/florida-ruffin-ridley.htm.

Wikipedia biographical sketch, accessible online at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_Ruffin_Ridley.

Floris Barnett Cash, "Florida Ruffin Ridley," in Notable Black American Women, ed.., Jessie Carney Smith (Detroit: Gale Research, 1992), 941-42.


Links to Additional Biographical Sketches

Who's Who in Colored America

Related Writings in Database

View works by

View works about

Related Works in DuBois Online Correspondence: 8

back to top