Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, part II


Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, part II


I am particularly fond of Josephine St Pierre Ruffin because she was an avid defender of Ida B Wells. Josephine moved among society women both white and Black and wasn’t afraid to disagree with them, especially in defense of unpopular or uncomfortable ideas. Thread.

Ida B. Wells was often the source of those unpopular ideas. Josephine was already a prominent publisher when she heard Ida speak in front of 400 New Yorkers. The 1892 speech launched Ida’s anti-lynching campaign and galvanized Af-Am women to become more explicitly political. A Memphis newspaper, furious that Ida was exposing lynchings, called her a “wench” and a “black harlot.” Nasty still, in 1892 those words were calculated to exploit stereotypes Black women faced constantly, and to undermine Ida’s credibility within the Black community.

Josephine wasn’t having it. She defended Ida unconditionally, and made clear that the Woman’s Era Club of Boston believed in Ida Wells’ “purity of purpose and character.” She defended her again when Ida picked a fight with a very powerful woman. Ida pointed out that the Women’s Christian Temperance Union wasn’t doing much to fight lynching. (They weren’t - they believed the lie that lynchings punished Black men for raping white women.) In criticizing WCTU, she took on Frances Willard, its powerful leader. Wealthy British supporters of American reform were devoted to Willard, and insisted Ida was lying. Even Frederick Douglass defended the powerful Willard, but Josephine sided with Ida.

“Doubtless Miss Willard is a good friend to colored people,” said Josephine’s paper, “...but we have failed to hear from her and the WCTU any flat-footed denunciation of lynching and lynchers.” Read the whole editorial here:

Josephine stood by Ida in internal battles among the clubwomen through the years, and against Booker T. Washington. I don’t think they were close friends. I like to imagine she was loyal because Ida stood for the brutal truth, and Josephine respected that. #BlackSuffragists


Daily Suffragist




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Daily Suffragist, “Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, part II,” Daily Suffragist, accessed July 22, 2024,

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