Top of page

Collection African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection

Mary Church Terrell

[Stock poster announcing a lecture to be given by Mrs. Mary Church Terrell, "1st Pres. of Nat'l Assoc. of Colored Women," with an illus. of Mrs. Terrell]. Artist unknown. Poster, undated. LC-USZ62-61446.


Mary Church Terrell was born in 1863, during the Civil War, and died in 1954, shortly after the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education -- the culmination of the fight to end Jim Crow segregation. Terrell had been a leader in this fight throughout her long life.

Born to wealth, Terrell majored in classics at Oberlin College, where she received her bachelor's degree in 1884, one of the first African-American women awarded a college degree. She studied in Europe for two years, becoming fluent in French, German, and Italian. A high school teacher and principal, Terrell was appointed to the District of Columbia Board of Education, the first black woman in the United States to hold such a position.

A charter member and first president of the National Association of Colored Women, Terrell became nationally known both for her support of women's suffrage and her opposition to racial segregation. She was also one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1953, at the age of ninety, she led a successful drive to end the segregation of public facilities in Washington, D.C.