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 Episcopal 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.

Harmony Grove

156 and 166 Franklin Street, Framingham

Established in 1846, Harmony Grove was a commercial pleasure park. It had a lawn area for games, a dancing pavilion, and, as it sat on the edge of Farm Pond, a boathouse. It also had an amphitheater of sorts, in a natural depression, with benches that sat about a thousand people and a platform below.

Undated illustration of Harmony Grove. Source: Historic Framingham blog.

Soon after Harmony Grove’s opening, the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society began to hold an annual Fourth of July rally at the roughly 4-acre venue. It was a time of greatly heightened tensions surrounding the question of slavery and growing opposition, particularly in states such as Massachusetts, to what South Carolina politician John C. Calhoun first referred to as “the peculiar institution.” The year 1850 saw the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, for example; in 1852, John P. Jewett & Company*, a publisher in Downtown Boston, released Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin; and, in 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

Poster for the July 4, 1954 gathering. Source: Massachusetts Historical Society.

In this charged context, the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society held its most well-known and controversial gathering at Harmony Grove on July 4, 1854. Hundreds of abolitionists—one newspaper estimated the crowd at 2,000—gathered at the site. Decorating the platform was an upside-down U.S. flag bordered in black, a banner that showed Massachusetts chained to Virginia, and anti-slavery slogans. Speakers included Lucy Stone, a not-yet-famous Henry David Thoreau (Walden came out the next month), and Sojourner Truth, who warned the crowd that God “would yet execute his judgments upon the white people for their oppression and cruelty.”

William Lloyd Garrison, editor of The Liberator newspaper, opened the event. He called the U.S. Constitution “the source and parent of all the other atrocities—a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell.” He ended his speech by burning a copy of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law as well as one of the Constitution, leading to many cheers but some boos as well from those in attendance.

Political gatherings continued at Harmony Grove for a decade following the end of the Civil War, but with a growing focus on women’s suffrage and temperance. In the 1870s, with the spread of railroads to new destinations, the popularity of Harmony Grove declined, leading to its closure in 1875. By the 1890s, the land was sub-divided into dozens of housing lots.

Plaque at 156 Franklin Street. Source: Historic Framingham blog.

Today, the area that was once Harmony Grove is populated by houses and commercial buildings. At 156 Franklin Street, at the corner with Henry Street, there is a small marker with a plaque, placed there by the Framingham Historical Society in 1913, commemorating Harmony Grove. On the other side of Henry Street, at 166 Franklin, there is a Harmony Grove Welcome Arch. Dedicated on September 6, 2020, the arch sits on the front lawn of a private home. The result of a collaboration between Downtown Framingham Inc. and student organizations at Framingham High School and Framingham State University, the arch, which visitors are welcome to approach, contains sketches of historical scenes and of the landscape associated with Harmony Grove.

Getting there:

Commuter Rail from South Station to Framingham. 0.5 mile (nine-minute) walk.

To learn more:

“Downtown Framingham Inc. Plans to Install Harmony Grove Welcome Arch,” Framingham SOURCE, February 22, 2020.

Framingham History Center, “A Brief History of Framingham’s Harmony Grove,” August 27, 2021.

Stephen W. Herring, Framingham: An American Town, Framingham: The Framingham Historical Society and the Framingham Tercentennial Commission, 2000.

Massachusetts Historical Society, “’A Covenant with Death and an Agreement with Hell,’” July 2005        .

*Regarding John P. Jewett & Company, see the site entry in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston.