Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party: Heritage Floor: Mary Church Terrell

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Unknown artist. Mary Church Terrell, between 1880 and 1900. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Mary Church Terrell
b. 1863, Memphis, Tennessee; d. 1954, Annapolis, Maryland

Mary Church Terrell was an American social and political activist and one of the earliest women of color invested in civil rights advocacy: she was an educator, an author, and a lecturer on women's suffrage and rights for African Americans. As the daughter of two former slaves who had moved on to own small, thriving businesses, Terrell had access to educational opportunities and graduated from college in 1884. She was an active member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association; she became the first president of the National Association of Colored Women, in 1897; she was appointed to the District of Columbia Board of Education in 1895—the first black woman to hold this position; and she was involved in the Washington chapter of the American Association of University Women (beginning 1949), when the group had previously maintained a policy of excluding blacks. Her autobiography, A Colored Woman in a White World, appeared in 1940.

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