Mary Eliza Church Terrell (1864-1954)

mary eliza church terrell

Mary Eliza Church Terrell organized a strategy for African American women to become full citizens of the United States. Terrell lectured throughout the country on the importance of the vote for black women. She deemed the vote essential for the elevation of black women and consequently the entire black race. Terrell saw education as essential in obtaining racial uplift and respectability.

As president of the National Association of Colored Women, Terrell campaigned tirelessly among black organizations and mainstream white organizations for black women’s suffrage. She even picketed the Wilson White House with members of the National Woman’s Party in her zeal for woman suffrage. Following the passage of the nineteenth amendment, Terrell turned her attention to civil rights. In 1948, Terrell became the first black member of the National Association of University Women. In 1950 she worked to desegregate the John R. Thompson Restaurant in Washington, D.C. and her efforts came to fruition with a 1953 Supreme Court decision banning discrimination in public places in the District of Columbia. Terrell fought for woman suffrage and civil rights because she realized that she belonged “to the only group in this country that has two such huge obstacles to surmount…both sex and race.” She lectured, organized, and battled to better the lives of African American women throughout her life.


Works Cited:

  • Reprinted from NWHM Cyber Exhibit "Rights For Women"
  • PHOTO: Mary Eliza Church Terrell, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (LC-USZ62-54722)