Discovering Hidden Washington: A Journey Through the Alley Communities of the Nation's Capital

Special Presentation - Mary Church Terrell

Image - Portrait of Mary Church TerrellI was born on September 26,1863 in Memphis, Tennessee. My father, a self-educated former slave, became a millionaire investing in real estate. When I was six years old my parents sent me to the Antioch College Model School in Yellow Springs, Ohio for my elementary and secondary education.

I then enrolled in nearby Oberlin College, where I received a Bachelor's degree in 1884. In 1887 I moved to Washington, D.C. to teach at the M Street High School. After receiving a Master's degree from Oberlin in 1888, I toured Europe to study languages.

Image - Portrait (seated) of Mary Church TerrellI returned from abroad in 1891 to marry Robert Terrell, my supervisor at the M Street High School. Robert later became the first Black Judge of the District of Columbia Municipal Court.

In the late nineteenth century thousands of African Americans in the rural South, many poor and uneducated, began to move to cities across the country seeking opportunities. In response to this mass migration educated middle-class African American women in cities organized service-oriented clubs dedicated to racial advancement.

Image - Kindergarten Class established by Mary Chruch TerrellIn 1892 I founded the Colored Woman's League of Washington, D.C., one of the first black women's clubs. Comprised primarily of teachers, the Colored Woman's League focused on the educational development of disadvantaged African American women and children. The League established an evening classes for adults, a program to train kindergarten teachers, and a free kindergarten and day nursery for the children of working mothers.

The League started a training program and a kindergarten before these were incorporated in the Washington public school system.

Image - Kindergarten Class established by Mary Church TerrellThe success of the League's educational initiatives led to my appointment to the District of Columbia Board of Education in 1895. I was the first Black woman in the United States to serve in this type of position.

In 1896 I became the founder and first president of the National Association of Colored Women, a national organization of black women's clubs. Working through this and other organizations I tried to promote the welfare of my race and the empowerment of Black women.

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