Florida Ruffin Ridley School and the Edward Devotion House

345 and 347 Harvard Street, Brookline

Edward Devotion House with the then-named Edward Devotion School behind it as well to the right of it, November 1, 1920. Photo by Leon H. Abdalian. Source: Leon Abdalian Collection, Arts Department, Boston Public Library, via Digital Commonwealth.

On February 26, 2021, a ceremony took place in front of Brookline’s largest elementary school (kindergarten – 8th grade) to celebrate the renaming of what is now called the Florida Ruffin Ridley School.

The renaming grew out of a broad reckoning with Brookline’s involvement in slavery. In 2006, an entity called the Hidden Brookline Committee, which serves under the Town’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations, began research on, with the goal of enhancing public understanding of, the history of slavery and freedom in Brookline. Hidden Brookline found that about more than a quarter of Brookline’s households owned human beings in the mid-1700s.

Among Brookline’s enslavers was Edward Devotion (1688-1744), who owned four landed properties, the largest of which is today the Coolidge Corner neighborhood. In his will, Devotion left a portion of his estate to Brookline and requested that it be used to build a school near the center of town. While the Town of Brookline never acted on this wish, it did honor Devotion’s bequest almost 150 years after his death when, in 1892, it opened a new school directly behind his house, and named it after him.

In early 2018, two Brookline residents, Deborah Brown and Anne Greenwald, launched a campaign to drop Edward Devotion’s name from the school due to his being an enslaver. In May of that year, Brookline Town Meeting (Brookline’s legislative body) voted to temporarily rename it the Coolidge Corner School.

A subsequent public process overseen by the Brookline School Committee resulted in 119 different proposals for a new, more permanent name from community members. A committee of students, guided by parents and school staff, then deliberated and opted to recommend that the school be named after Florida Ruffin Ridley, a prominent suffragist and civil rights leader. On November 20, 2019, the Town Meeting, by a vote of 195 to 15 (with 13 abstentions) voted to approve the committee’s recommendation. The school’s new name officially went into effect on September 1, 2020.

Florida Ridley Ruffin School, October 2021. Photo by Joseph Nevins.

Born and raised in Boston, Ridley was the second Black teacher in that city’s history. Along with her mother, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, she helped found the Women’s Era Club, an advocacy group for Black women in the Boston area; she also served as an editor of the organization’s newspaper, The Women’s Era.  In 1896, Ridley moved to Brookline with her husband and purchased a home (which still stands, at 131 Kent Street). Together, they became either the first, or among the first, Black homeowners in Brookline.

Edward Devotion House, October 2021.

The Edward Devotion House remains standing on Harvard Street, with the U-shaped Florida Ruffin Ridley School surrounding it on three sides. The Devotion House was built around 1740 and contains a house frame which dates to approximately 1680. It is today owned by the Town of Brookline. It serves as the headquarters of the Brookline Historical Society, which administers the historic building and has been meeting there since 1901.

Getting there:

Green Line (C Branch) to Coolidge Corner station. 0.3 mile (6 minute) walk. MBTA buses also pass by the site.

To learn more:

Brookline Historical Society website.

Hidden Brookline website.

John Hilliard, “Brookline Town Meeting Votes to Rename Devotion School,” The Boston Globe, May 29, 2018.

John Laidler, “Brookline School Renamed After Civil Rights Leader and Suffragist,” The Boston Globe, November 25, 2019.

Max Larkin, “Under the Shadow of Slavery, Brookline Debates Renaming a School, WBUR.com, May 29, 2018.

Ken Liss, “African-Americans in Brookline: Seeking the First Homeowner,” Muddy River Musings blog, May 29, 2012.

Postcard, undated, circa 1940s. Source: Brookline Photograph Collection, Public Library of Brookline, via Digital Commonwealth.

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