James Grier Ralston was born in Nantmeal Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania on December 28, 1815. He graduated from Washington College in Pennsylvania in 1838, attended Princeton Theological Seminary from 1839 to 1840; was principal of Oxford Female Seminary in Chester Country, Pennsylvania from 1841 to 1845; was ordained by the presbytery of New Castle on December 17, 1845. In 1845, Ralston founded the Oakland Female Institute, dedicated to liberal education for women. The school attracted students from around the world, educating over 3000 women before it closed in 1881, just after Ralston’s death.
He organized the Western North Carolina Land Company in 1874, with other Philadelphia entrepreneurs for the purpose of land speculation. He also wrote a Historical Sketch of the First Presbyterian Church of Norristown, Pennsylvania (1876). He was a student of natural history and mineralogy and the discoverer of a fluoride of aluminum and calcium that was later named ralstonite after the discoverer. He died in Norristown, Pennsylvania on November 10, 1880.
Ralston's personal mineral collection was sold to Prof. Thadeus Lowe and his wife Leontina. In 1917 the Lowe collection of 6,000 specimens (including the Ralston collection, which had retained its original labels) was purchased by George L. English on behalf of Wards Natural Science Establishment.