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Brookline school renamed after civil rights leader and suffragist

Bringing a close to more than a year of debate, Brookline Town Meeting on Nov. 20 renamed the Coolidge Corner School after civil rights leader and suffragist Florida Ruffin Ridley.

Effective Sept. 1, 2020, the kindergarten to eighth grade school formerly known as the Edward Devotion School will be called the Florida Ruffin Ridley School.

The meeting approved the renaming by a vote of 195 to 15, with 13 abstaining. It rejected a separate proposal to name the school after the late Ethel Weiss, the longtime owner of Irving’s Toy and Card Shop.

The meeting did not vote on a third article seeking to name the school after Robert I. Sperber, a former Brookline school superintendent, because no motion was made, according to Town Clerk Patrick Ward.


Town Meeting in May 2018 voted to rename the school because Devotion, a local benefactor who lived from 1668 to 1744, was a slave owner. The 2018 vote temporarily renamed the school the Coolidge Corner School and gave the School Committee a year to propose a new name.

Ward said the School Committee proposed to name the school after Ridley based on the recommendation of a student committee guided by parents and school staff.

The group chose the Florida Ruffin Ridley School from among 119 nominations submitted by community members. Ridley, who lived from 1861 to 1943, was an African-American civil rights activist, suffragist, teacher, writer, and editor, according to a Brookline School Department web page. Ridley was one of the first African-American teachers in Massachusetts.

Moving to Brookline with her husband in 1896, she was involved in the women’s suffrage movement in the 1920s. Ridley cofounded the Society for the Collection of Negro Folklore and several other nonprofit organizations. As a journalist, she edited her mother’s newspaper, Women’s Era.

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.