SEPTEMBER 23, 1863–JULY 24, 1954
Mary Church Terrell was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1863. She was a civil rights activist, educator, writer, and suffragist. In 1884, she earned her bachelor’s degree at Oberlin College, making her one of the first Black American women to earn a college degree.
After marrying her husband, Robert, in 1891, Terrell realized she would not be happy being a homemaker. Already trained as a teacher, she became a social activist. In 1896, she became the first president of the National Association of Colored Women.
Later known as the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, the NACW helped campaign for women’s suffrage, worked against discriminatory laws, and pushed for education reform, among other initiatives. She also helped form the NAACP. Terrell spent the 1890s and 1900s writing newspaper articles and delivering speeches on the importance of racial and gender equality, including the need for women’s suffrage. She was a member of the National American Woman Surage Association and worked to ensure that Black women were not forgotten by the majority-white suffragist movement.
After the 19th Amendment was ratified, Terrell continued to work as an activist for another three decades, spending the last few years of her life protesting racial discrimination in Washington D.C. stores and restaurants. She died in 1954 at age 80.
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