The Women’s Era

108 Charles Street, Beacon Hill

Inaugural issue of The Women’s Era.

From roughly November 1894 to January 1897, 108 Charles Street was home to The Women’s Era, the first newspaper in the United States produced and funded by Black women. The newspaper played a key role in the holding of the first National Conference of Colored Women (which took place in Boston in 1895) and in the establishment of the National Association of Colored Women.

The newspaper grew out of the Women’s Era Club, an advocacy group for Boston-area Black women founded by Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and her daughter Florida Ridley Ruffin, members of a small, but significant Black, upper-class community on the north side of Beacon Hill. The club, which allowed white women to join, had a wide array of interests, but primary were issues affecting the well-being of the Black community and racial equality.

The publication’s first issue came out on March 24, 1894. Soon the newspaper went national and became the leading publication for Black clubwomen across the country.

106-108 Charles Street today. Number 108 is the doorway on the right hand side.

Like the Women’s Era Club, the newspaper championed women’s suffrage, while also focusing on a broader set of issues. They ranged from the activities of local clubs and matters of health and literature to poverty and education. The publication was, according to historian Teresa Blue Holden, one that “broadcast the perspectives of black women nationally and linked their interests with those of white American women who were also contributors to the paper.” Animated by a spirit that rejected divisions of class, race, and religion, the paper advocated for the well-being of all women.

The first few issues of the newspaper listed St. Augustine’s Trade School, an Episcopalian church-related institution at 185 Charles Street, as the home of The Women’s Era. By November 1894, however, presumably because it now had its own office, the building at 108 Charles Street was listed as the publication’s address. This address endured until the paper’s last issue, which was published in January 1897. A combination of declining financial resources and differences with the national club movement (many within perceived the newspaper as too radical) led to the publication’s demise.  

The four-story building (106-108 Charles Street) in which The Women’s Era’s offices were located today houses commercial space on the ground floor and private residences above.

Getting there:

Red Lines to Charles/MGH Station. 0.1-mile (3-minute) walk.

Related site:

The home of Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and the meeting place of the Women’s Era Club (founded in 1893, it existed until some point in the first decade of the 1900s), 103 Charles Street; it is diagonally across the street from the former offices of The Women’s Era.

Historical marker outside of 103 Charles Street.

To learn more:

Teresa Blue Holden, “Earnest women can do anything”: The public career of Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, 1842–1904, Ph.D. dissertation, Saint Louis University, 2005.

Kaitlin Woods, “’Make the World Better’: The Woman’s Era Club of Boston,” U.S. National Park Service, undated publication.

The Women’s Era, digital repository of all issues of the newspaper.

Martin Luther King’s Residence

397 Massachusetts Avenue, South End

In 1952-1953, while a graduate student at the Boston University School of Theology, Martin Luther King resided in a building located at 397 Massachusetts Avenue (as indicated by a small plaque on its façade). At the time, it was likely a boarding house in which residents rented rooms.

Plaque on the outside of the building at 397 Massachusetts Avenue.

MLK’s apartment also served as the meeting place for the Dialectical Society, a club dedicated to discussing matters of philosophy and theology and composed largely of African American male graduate students. His future wife, Coretta Scott (who he met in early 1952), lived nearby as she was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music, and occasionally participated in the group’s meetings.

In the early 1950, the neighborhood was a vibrant, largely Black community with a rich array of restaurants and jazz clubs, ones where the likes of Count Basie and Duke Ellington could be seen. Today, only a few of those institutions remain in the heavily gentrified area.

No longer a boarding house, 397 Massachusetts Avenue is today home to apartments owned and maintained by the South End’s Tenants’ Development Corporation. Founded in 1968, the organization works to increase the availability of housing for low- and moderate-income individuals and families.

397 Massachusetts Avenue, 2016. Photo by Joseph Nevins.

Getting there:

Orange Line to Massachusetts Avenue Station. Exit at Massachusetts Avenue and immediately go left. Number 397 is two buildings away on the left-hand side.

Nearby points of interest:

170 St. Botolph Street. At some point after living at 397 Massachusetts Avenue, MLK lived in an apartment in this building.

Wally’s Café Jazz Club (the last of the area’s venerable jazz and blues clubs), 427 Massachusetts Avenue.

Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe. Established in 1927, the white-owned restaurant was featured in The Green Book as it welcomed Black diners and Black jazz musicians during its first few decades, a time when many area establishments. The floor above the restaurant served as the union hall of the Boston branch of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, an African-American-led union. 429 Columbus Avenue.

New England Conservatory of Music, 290 Huntington Avenue.

To learn more:

Cara Feinberg, “When Martin met Coretta,” The Boston Globe, January 22, 2003.

Stephen C. Ferguson II, “The Philosopher King: An Examination of the Influence of Dialectics on King’s Political Thought and Practice,” in Robert E. Birt, The Liberatory Thought of Martin Luther King: Critical Essays on the Philosopher King, Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2012:  87-108.

Robert Hayden, “Local activists recall King’s presence in Hub,” The Bay State Banner, January 14, 2015.

For more sites in Boston associated with Martin  Luther King, see the “Malcolm and Martin Tour.” in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston.

Photo credit:

The photo at the top of the entry is from April 22, 1965. MLK is speaking on the front steps of the William Boardman School in Roxbury, in support of parents working to remedy substandard and unequal schools and racial segregation in the Boston Public Schools. Source: Boston Herald.