House Namesakes

History of M.C. Terrell

With keen insight and intense focus, Mary Church Terrell was a determined and driven activist for the plight of women in America. As evidenced by Terrell’s audacious statement, “The colored women of this country carry two heavy loads...the burden of race as well as sex,” she recognized the dual restrictors placed upon the advancement and available opportunities of African-American women in the United States. She was revolutionary in her approach to ensuring that women were valued equally in the American society regardless of race and gender. Mary Church Terrell solidified her position in history as a fighter who brought about the collapse of segregation in the Nation’s Capital. Terrell was instrumental in the struggle for equal rights including the suffrage movement and the battle for racial equality under the law. Her tenacity and determination to correct the social ills surrounding race and gender in the American society set her apart as a notable leader during her time. Among her accomplishments are:

  • Election as the first President of the National Association of Colored Women, 1896–1901;
  • Appointment to the Washington,D.C. Board of Education, 1895–1906, becoming the first African-American woman in the U.S. to be appointed to a local school board;
  • Establishment of a friendship with Susan B.Anthony and becoming a strong vocal advocate for women’s suffrage and the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution;
  • An address to the International Congress of Women in Berlin in 1904 on The Progress and Problems of Colored Women, in English, French and German;
  • Helping to organize and becoming a charter member of the NAACP in 1909;
  • Founding the College Alumni Club in 1910, predecessor of the National Association of University Women;
  • Becoming an outspoken critic of lynching of African Americans and the convict leasing system;
  • Playing a pivotal role in ending the era of segregated dining facilities in the District of Columbia through economic boycotts and participating in the Supreme Court case that upheld the enforcement of local anti-discrimination laws of 1872 and 1873.

History of Judge Terrell

Robert Heberton Terrell, Mary Church Terrell’s husband, was born enslaved on a plantation in Orange County, Virginia, and later became only the third black to graduate Harvard College in 1884, and the first to graduate cum laude. Known also for his oratorical skills, he delivered the commencement address at Harvard where he highlighted the importance of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in protecting the civil rights of Negroes. He assumed a teaching appointment at the M Street Colored High School, and was a strong spokesman for the Booker T. Washington school of thought that preferred training African American children in manual vocations. Terrell graduated from Howard University School of Law in 1889, and became the first black Municipal Judge for the District of Columbia.