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Wed, 09.23.1863

Mary Church Terrell, Activist born

Mary C. Terrell

This date marks the birth of Mary Church Terrell in 1863. She was a Black social activist.

Mary “Mollie” Church was born into a middle-class family in Memphis, TN.  Her father was Robert R. Church Sr., and her mother was Louisa Ayres.  She attended Barber-Scotia School in North Carolina and received a bachelor's degree from Oberlin College, Ohio, in 1884. She taught languages at Wilberforce University in Xenia, Ohio.  At the M Street High School, a Black secondary school in Washington, D. C., After a two-year tour of Europe, she completed a master's degree from Oberlin in 1888. She married Robert Heberton Terrell, a lawyer who would be the first black municipal court judge in the nation's capital.

An early advocate of women's rights, Terrell was an active member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, addressing, in particular, the concerns of Black women. Appointed to the District of Columbia Board of Education in 1895, Terrell was the first Black woman to hold such a position.  In 1896, she became the first president of the newly formed National Association of Colored Women, an organization that, under her leadership, worked to achieve educational and social reform and end discriminatory practices.  At the suggestion of W.E.B. Du Bois, she was made a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  In 1949, she entered the Washington chapter of the American Association of University Women, ending its policy of excluding Blacks.

Terrell, an articulate spokeswoman, adept political organizer, and prolific writer addressed many social issues in her long career, including Jim Crow laws, lynching, and the convict lease system.  Her last act as an activist was to lead a successful three-year struggle against segregation in public eating places and hotels in the nation's capital. Her autobiography, “A Colored Woman in a White World,” appeared in 1940.

Mary Terrell, early civil-rights advocate, educator, author, and lecturer on woman's suffrage and Black rights, died July 24, 1954, in Annapolis, Md.

To Become a Social Worker

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Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York
ISBN 0-926019-61-9

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