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Tue, 01.29.1861

Florida Ruffin Ridley, Activist, Suffragist, and Teacher born

Florida Ruffin Ridley

*Florida Ruffin Ridley was born on this date in 1861. She was a Black activist, suffragist, teacher, writer, and editor.

Florida Yates Ruffin was born into a distinguished Boston family. Her father, George Lewis Ruffin, was the first Black graduate of Harvard Law School and the first Black judge in the United States. Her mother, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, was a noted Black writer, civil rights leader, and suffragist. The family lived on Charles Street in the West End. Young Ruffin attended Boston public schools and graduated from Boston Teachers' College in 1882.

She was the second African American to teach in the Boston public schools.  She taught at the Grant School from 1880 until her marriage in 1888 to Ulysses Archibald Ridley, owner of a tailoring business in downtown Boston. The couple moved to Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1896, where they may have been the town's first Black homeowners. Ridley was one of the founders of the Second Unitarian Church in Brookline. She and her husband had a daughter, Constance, and a son, Ulysses A. Ridley, Jr. Following in her mother's footsteps, Ridley became politically active as a young woman.

She was involved in the early women's suffrage movement and was an anti-lynching activist. With her mother and Maria Louise Baldwin, Ridley co-founded several non-profit organizations. They founded the Woman's Era Club (later renamed the New Era Club), an advocacy group for Black women, in 1894. In 1895 they founded a group that later became the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs; speakers at their first meeting included the abolitionist and religious leader, Eliza Ann Gardner, noted scholar Anna J. Cooper, and Ella Smith, the first Black woman to receive an M.A. from Wellesley College. In 1918, Ridley, Ruffin, and Baldwin founded the League of Women for Community Service. The League, which still exists today, provided social, educational, and charitable services for the black community.

In 1923, Ridley conceived and directed an exhibit of "Negro Achievement and Abolition Memorials" at the Boston Public Library on behalf of the League. Ridley, who had a special interest in Black history, also co-founded the Society for the Collection of Negro Folklore in 1890 and founded the Society of the Descendants of Early New England Negroes in the 1920s. As a journalist and essayist, Ridley wrote mainly about black history and race relations in New England. She contributed to the Journal of Negro HistoryThe Boston Globe, and other periodicals, and also published several short stories. She was a member of the Saturday Evening Quill Club, a literary group organized by Boston Post editor and columnist Eugene Gordon in 1925. Fellow members included Pauline Hopkins and Dorothy West. The Saturday Evening Quill, the group's annual journal, published the work of Black women writers and artists, including Ridley, Helene Johnson, and Lois Mailou Jones.

She also edited the Woman's Era, America's first newspaper published by and for Black women. Florida Ridley died at her daughter's home in Toledo, Ohio, on February 25, 1943. Her home on Charles Street is a stop on the Boston Women's Heritage Trail. As of September 2020, the Florida Ruffin Ridley School in Coolidge Corner, Brookline, Massachusetts, will be named in her honor.

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