Mississippi Senator Blanche K. Bruce (1841-1898) and clubwoman Josephine Beall Willson Bruce (1853-1923) were leaders of Washington's "aristocrats of color," a group of well-educated, financially secure, and politically active families linked nationwide. Blanche was the first black senator to serve a full term in Congress (1875-1881). He later received presidential appointments as register of the U.S. Treasury (1881-85, 1897-98) and DC recorder of deeds (1891-1893). Josephine Bruce helped found the National Association of Colored Women, the first modern civil rights organization, in 1896, and the Book Lovers Club, a literary group that organized the city's first YWCA in 1905.
Blanche Bruce, born enslaved in Farmville, Prince Edward County, Virginia, escaped from slavery during the Civil War and later attended Oberlin College. Moving to Mississippi in 1868 Bruce amassed a fortune in real estate and became active in politics. As senator, Bruce was an advocate for the rights of people of color — he introduced a bill to desegregate the U.S. Army, saved the Freedman's Savings Trust Company from bankruptcy, and opposed the Chinese Exclusion Act.
Josephine Beall Willson Bruce was born in Philadelphia. Prior to her marriage she worked as a teacher in Cleveland. She relocated to Washington with Blanche in 1878 and immersed herself in the city's social and political organizations. Josephine spoke and wrote widely about the importance of education for all and was an advocate for rural life. After Blanche's death, she served three years as "lady principal" of Tuskegee Institute.
The five-story Second Empire style private residence at 909 M Street, NW, where the Bruces lived circa 1880-1885, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the DC Inventory of Historic Sites since 1975.
The Bruces lived at 2010 R Street, NW, circa 1890-1898.