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Why was Mary Church Terrell important?

Mary Church Terrell (1863–1954) was the first black woman to serve on the Washington, D.C., Board of Education. She served from 1895 to 1901, and again from 1906 to 1911. In 1896 she was the cofounder and first president of the National Council of Colored Women. Terrell was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to parents who were former slaves. Her father was the son of his owner and opened a successful saloon after emancipation. Her mother ran an equally successful hair salon. Terrell was sent to Ohio for her early schooling, attending first the Antioch College Model School, then a public school in Yellow Springs, and finally the public high school in Oberlin. During this time, her mother moved to New York while Terrell was away in school. Terrell graduated from Oberlin College in 1884 and returned to Memphis, where her father, Robert Reed Church Sr. (1839–1912), had become wealthy. In 1885 she began her professional career at Wilberforce College, but left after a year to teach in the Latin department of the colored high school in Washington, D.C. She completed work for her master’s from Oberlin in 1888, while working in Washington.


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