Mary Church Terrell-educator, political activist, author of A Colored Woman in a White World, and first president of the National Association of Colored Women—was born on this day, September 23, in 1863, in Memphis, Tennessee.
An 1884 graduate of Oberlin College, America’s first college to admit women and amongst the first to admit students of all races. Terrell was an African-American woman among mostly white male students. Still, the freshman class elected her as class poet, and she was elected to two of the college’s literary societies. Mary also served as an editor of the Oberlin Review. When she earned her bachelor’s degree in 1884, she was one of the first African-American women known to have earned a college degree. Mary continued on to earn a master’s degree from Oberlin in 1888.
Mary Church taught at a black secondary school in Washington, DC and at Wilberforce College, a historically black college founded by the Methodist Church in Ohio. She studied in Europe for two years, where she became fluent in French, German, and Italian.