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(1895) Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, “Address to the First National Conference of Colored Women,”

In 1894 Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin founded the Womens New Era Club, a charitable organization of sixty prominent black women in Boston.  Soon afterwards she began editing its monthly publication, the Womens Era.  Encouraged by the success of the New Era Club and heartened by the rapid growth of similar black womens groups across the nation, Ruffin organized and convened the first National Conference of Colored Women at the Charles Street A. M. E. Church in Boston in 1895. While the new organization emphasized its refusal to exclude non-black women, Ruffin nonetheless argued that African American women needed to take the leadership for their own welfare.  Two years after the convention met, the National Association of Colored Women was formed with Mary Church Terrell as its first president and Ruffin as editor of the Womens Era, now the official newspaper for the national organization.  Ruffins speech on July 29, 1895 to the assembled women at the Charles Street Church appears below.  

It is with especial joy and pride that I welcome you all to this, our first conference.  It is only recently that women have waked up to the importance of meeting in council, and great as has been the advantage to women generally, and important as it is and has been that they should confer, the necessity has not been nearly so great, matters at stake not nearly so vital, as that we, bearing peculiar blunders, suffering under especial hardships, enduring peculiar privations, should meet for a good talk among ourselves.  Although rather hastily called, you as well as I can testify how long and how earnestly a conference has been thought of and hoped for and even prepared for. 

These womens clubs, which have sprung up all over the country, build and run upon broad and strong lines, have all been a preparation, small conferences in themselves, and their spontaneous birth and enthusiastic support have been little less than inspiration on the part of our women and a general preparation for a large union such as it is hoped

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