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Josephine Bruce, a Black teacher and social activist, was born on this date in 1853 in Philadelphia, PA.
Josephine Beall Willson Bruce was raised in Cleveland, Ohio, the daughter of a Dr. Joseph Willson who was a dentist and writer and Elizabeth Harnett Willson a talented musician. After graduating from Cleveland’s Central High School in 1871, and completing a teachers training course, Willson was the first Black to join the faculty of an integrated Cleveland elementary school. In 1878, she married Blanche K. Bruce, senator from Mississippi.
The couple moved to Washington D.C. and started a family together. While assisting in her husband's political career moves and raising their only child, Bruce held a prominent place in the social life of Washington’s Black elite and aided a number of ventures to promote the welfare of African-Americans. She was a strong advocate of industrial education for the Black masses as a way of overcoming obstacles in the path of racial progress. Following the death of her husband, Bruce became female principal of Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute from 1899 to MS, to manage her family’s cotton plantations.
She returned to Washington D.C. when her Harvard-educated son became assistant superintendent in charge of the district’s Black schools. An early leader and advocate of the club movement among Black women, she was a founder of the Booklovers’ Club, the Colored Woman’s League, and the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). Josephine Bruce spent the last few months of her life in Kimball, WV, where her son had become a school principal. At the age of seventy, she died on February 15, 1923.
Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York