A Turn-of-the-Century Woman!

Mary Church Terrell
Mary Church Terrell

September 23, 1863
Activist Mary Church Terrell was Born

In 1898, Mary Church Terrell wrote how African-American women “with ambition and aspiration [are] handicapped on account of their sex, but they are everywhere baffled and mocked on account of their race.” She fought for equality through social and educational reform. Born on September 23, 1863, in Memphis, Tennessee, Terrell became an educator, political activist, and the first president of the National Association of Colored Women. Terrell understood the value of education.In 1898, Mary Church Terrell wrote how African-American women “with ambition and aspiration [are] handicapped on account of their sex, but they are everywhere baffled and mocked on account of their race.” She fought for equality through social and educational reform. Born on September 23, 1863, in Memphis, Tennessee, Terrell became an educator, political activist, and the first president of the National Association of Colored Women. Terrell understood the value of education.

Terrell was one of the first American women of African descent to graduate from college. She attended Oberlin College in Ohio, America’s first college to admit women and among the first to admit students of all races. She earned her master’s degree from Oberlin in 1888 and began her career as a teacher. After her marriage to Washington lawyer Robert Terrell, she became active in the suffrage movement, speaking out for women’s right to vote, particularly on behalf of African-American women.

Terrell found that black women’s groups were routinely excluded from national women’s organizations during the late 19th century. They weren’t even allowed to participate in the planning of the 1893 World’s Fair, but they could attend. Because of this, Terrell and other black women leaders formed the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in 1896, an organization that would support black women’s groups throughout the country. She and the NACW worked to end discrimination based on gender and race. One way was through educating the public. Passionate about education, Terrell sold her speeches to raise money for a kindergarten as well.