Mary Church Terrell was born Sept. 23, 1863 in Memphis, TN. Her parents, Robert Reed Church and Louisa Ayers, were freed slaves. She majored in Classics at Oberlin College, the first college in the United States to accept African American and female students; she was one of the first African American women to attend the institution. Terrell graduated in 1884 with Anna Julia Cooper and Ida Gibbs Hunt. She earned her master's degree in Education from Oberlin in 1888. She began teaching at Wilberforce College before moving to Washington, D.C. to teach at the M. Street School.
In 1891 Mary married Robert Heberton Terrell, a lawyer who became the first black municipal court judge in Washington, DC. Together they had 4 children, but only one survived to adulthood (daughter Phyllis) and later adopted another daughter. Mary was active in the happenings within suffragists circles in the National Association Woman Suffrage Association and met Susan B. Anthony. She was also active in the Republican Party; Terrell was president of the Women's Republican League during Warren G. Harding's 1920 presidential campaign. In 1892, Terrell formed the Colored Women's League and later, with Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, she formed the National Association of Colored Women.
She also had a career as a journalist using the pen name "Euphemia Kirk" and wrote for a variety of newspapers: A.M.E. Church Review (Philadelphia, PA), Southern Workman (Hampton, VA), Indianapolis Freeman, Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), Washington Tribune, Chicago Defender, New York Age, Voice of the Negro, Women's World, Norfolk Journal and Guide, Washington Evening Star, Washington Post.
In 1909, Terrell was one of two black women who helped form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She also helped organize the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. During In World War I, Terrell was involved with the War Camp Community Service and, later, Terrell and her daughter Phyllis joined the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CUWS). She died on July 24, 1954 in Annapolis, Maryland.