Happy Women’s History Month everyone! To celebrate March being Women’s History Month and 2020 being the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, we’re debuting a new series this month called Suffragette Sunday. There are FIVE Sundays in March, and on each one we’ll be featuring a historical woman who was instrumental in the fight to get women the right to vote in the United States. Since there are only five Sundays, we won’t be able to feature everyone, but we hope that these short pieces of these amazing women will inspire you to read more about the suffrage movement and discover something new. 

This week, we’re featuring Mary Church Terrell. On a personal note, I had never heard of her before moving to D.C., and now I walk by her historical landmark house every day on my way to work. I loved getting to learn more about her, and hope this will inspire you to look for heroes around you as well. 

Mary Church was born in 1863 in Tennessee to former slaves, and fighting for equality for all races as well as all sexes was important to her throughout her life. Mary’s family was able to send her to college, and she attended Oberlin College in Ohio. Oberlin was the first university to admit women, and the first to award a degree to a black woman, the year before Mary was born, so she was in good hands there. 

After college, she moved to Washington D.C. as a teacher and married, becoming Mary Church Terrell. Though teaching is its own form of activism, Terrell’s political work really began in the last decade of the 19th century. She joined last Sunday’s subject, Ida B Wells-Barnett, in speaking out against the horrors of lynching. Terrell especially wanted to end racism and racial prejudice through racial uplift–that is encouraging blacks to get an education, build their own businesses, and rise in the social and economic ranks. 

Of course, as the 20th century began, she, like many other civil rights leaders, became involved in the fight for female suffrage and the passage of hat would become the 19th Amendment. As we’ve mentioned before, many suffragettes were focused on the plight of non-voting white women, often forgetting the unique situation black women were in in America. Activists like Terrell and Wells-Barnett helped bridge this gap and get black women involved in fighting for their own and universal suffrage. Terell picketed alongside other members of the National Women’s Party to get the 19th Amendment ratified, which occurred in August 2020. 

After the 19th Amendment was passed, Terrell continued her activism. She became the first black woman in the American Association of University Women and continued to stand up against injustice into her golden years. In her mid-80s she helped protest against segregation at a restaurant in Washington D.C., which led to the Supreme Court ruling that such segregated dining establishments were unconstitutional. 

Numerous schools are named after her and reflect her legacy of activism for women and for African-Americans. Terrell passed away in 1954. 

If you want to learn more about Mary Church Terrell, consider picking up one of these books:

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Aryssa D
FFL Cabinet Member