Women In History: Mary Church Terrell

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I’m starting a new feature today. It won’t run on any sort of regular basis. It will be about women in history, women who have come before. Without the women who came before, we would never be able to even consider making the strides we are trying to make today. So I think that it’s important to recognize their accomplishments, because they opened doors, not only for themselves, but for the women who were to come after them. (P.S., yes, I did just attend the UN High Level Meeting on Youth and I will be talking about that meeting and Planned Parenthood’s radical agenda at some point, probably spread out, but I will be talking about it, I’m still just mulling over all my feelings).


  • lived from 1863 – 1954.
  • had a father who was shot during the Memphis Race Riots, but survived.
  • earned a college degree (in classics), becoming the first African-American woman to do so and did so under a “gentleman’s” course as well, which was harder.
  • served on the District of Columbia Board of Education, becoming the first African-American woman in the country to do so.
  • went onto become an activist, particularly for the suffrage of African-American women.
  • also went onto earn a Master’s Degree.
  • also taught, both secondary school and college.
  • was fluent in French, German, and Italian after spending 2 years studying in Europe.
  • had a high-profile husband, Robert Heberton Terrrell, Washington, D.C.’s first African-American municipal court judge.
  • was a mother to five children, three who died very young, Phyllis, who lived past infancy, and Mary, who was adopted.
  • had to quit her teaching job after being married since married women weren’t allowed to work.
  • was the first president of the National Association of Colored Women.
  • met with the president after the lynching of her friend, but he refused to make a public statement about it.
  • founded the National Association of University Women.
  • published many things under the pen name Euphemia Kirk.
  • spoke at the International Congress of Women in Berlin, Germany.
  • spoke at the Quinquennial International Peace Conference in Zürich, Switzerland.
  • spoke at the International Assembly of the World Fellowship of Faith in London, England.
  • was a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
  • was a Republican.
  • helped lead the fight to end segregation in Washington, D.C. restaurants (which was successful).
  • lived to be 90 years old! And was an activist right up until the end. Her death came just after the decision in Brown vs. Board of Education.
  • was recognized by her university as one of their top 100 alumni.
  • has been on a postage stamp.
  • was highly passionate about education.
  • was honored by Mrs. Eisenhower for her work with human rights.
  • has a school named after her in Washington, D. C.
  • held three honorary doctorates from Wilberforce College,  Howard University, and Oberlin College

From http://www.blackelpaso.com/News/2009Feb/civilrightsactivists.html

Others have said about her

  • “For more than 60 years, her great gifts were dedicated to the betterment of humanity, and she left a truly inspiring record.” – Marie Eisenhower
  • This isn’t directly about her, but it showed her power to move people. “When my feet hurt I wasn’t going to let a women fifty years older than I do what I couldn’t do. I kept on picketing.” – A picketer in Washington, D.C. when they were trying to desegregate the restaurants.
  • “Mary used her education in journalism to bring awareness to the world that people where [sic] still held as slaves and that slavery did not end as alleged in 1863 for hundreds of thousands of people in 16 states and 27 counties.” (Antoinette Harrell)

From http://peacebuttons.info/E-News/thisweek.htm

Some of the things that she’s on record as saying

  • About 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.” (America’s Story from America’s Library)
  • A speech about What It Means to be Colored in the Capital of the U.S.
  • A speech about The Progress of Colored Women
  • “Seeing their children touched and seared and wounded by race prejudice is one of the heaviest crosses which colored women have to bear.” (A Republican Woman of Means: Mary Church Terrell – Link broken as of 6/7/2105)
  • “I resolved that so far as this descendant of slaves was concerned, she would show those white girls and boys whose forefathers had always been free that she was their equal in every respect… . I felt I must hold high the banner of my race.” (Answers.com)
  • “I knew I would be much happier trying to promote the welfare of my race in my native land, working under certain hard conditions, than I would be living in a foreign land where I could enjoy freedom from prejudice, but where I would make no effort to do the work which I then believed it was my duty to do.” (Answers.com)
  • “I cannot help wondering sometimes what I might have become and might have done if I had lived in a country which had not circumscribed and handicapped me on account of my race, that had allowed me to reach any height I was able to attain.” (About.com Women’s History)
  • “As a colored woman I may enter more than one white church in Washington without receiving that welcome which as a human being I have the right to expect in the sanctuary of God.” (About.com Women’s History)
  • “A white woman has only one handicap to overcome – a great one, true, her sex. A colored woman faces two—her sex and her race. A colored man has only one—that of race.” (Learning to Give)

And so, lifting as we climb, onward and upward we go, struggling and striving, and hoping that the buds and blossoms of our desires will burst into glorious fruition ere long. With courage, born of success achieved in the past, with a keen sense of the responsibility which we shall continue to assume, we look forward to a future large with promise and hope. Seeking no favors because of our color, nor patronage because of our needs, we knock at the bar of justice, asking an equal chance. (About.com Women’s History)

Surely nowhere in the world do oppression and persecution based solely on the color of the skin appear more hateful and hideous than in the capital of the United States, because the chasm between the principles upon which this Government was founded, in which it still professes to believe, and those which are daily practiced under the protection of the flag, yawn so wide and deep.(About.com Women’s History)

From http://www.npg.si.edu/exh/harmon/terrharm.htm

Books by/about her (note, I haven’t read any of these so I can give recommendations):


P.S. again: I just created a Facebook fan page. Check out the side and if you like my blog, like us on Facebook!

P.P.S. To read about more awesome women in history, check out the list of every woman I’ve profiled.

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