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Mary Church Terrell

Mary Church Terrell

Mary Church Terrell

Superbly-educated and multi-lingual, Mary Church Terrell was well-equipped to fight for suffrage on two fronts: gender and racial equality. The daughter of former slaves, she earned a Master’s degree from Oberlin College, and eventually received three honorary doctorates in recognition of her literary, oratorical and civil rights achievements. A high school teacher and principal, Terrell was appointed to the District of Columbia Board of Education, the first black woman in this country to hold such a position. Terrell was also an active member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association to lobby for suffrage among black women. With Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, she formed the Federation of Afro-American Women, and became the first president of the newly formed National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. Terrell also founded the National Association of College Women, which later became the National Association of University Women (NAUW), and broke the color barrier to become the first black member of the American Association of University Women. She also co-founded the NAACP and the influential Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. With Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, she and her daughter picketed the White House in support of adoption of the 19th Amendment. After WWI, she was a delegate to the International Peace Conference, and was elected President of the Republican Women’s League during President Harding’s administration, the first presidential election in which all American women could vote. Throughout her life she worked to engage women in the political process, and to eliminate Jim Crow laws. Notably, she was instrumental in eliminating segregation policies in the District of Columbia. She lived to see the Supreme Court rule in Brown vs. the Board of Education, and died shortly afterwards at the age of 90.