Mary Church Terrell was born in Memphis, Tennessee on September 23, 1863. She earned her Bachelors and Masters degrees at Oberlin College during the 1880s, and taught in Ohio and Washington, DC. Following the completion of her graduate degree, Mary Church traveled and studied languages abroad. In 1890, she returned to Washington, where she taught at M Street High School. In October 1891, she married fellow teacher Robert A. Terrell. He was a lawyer and became the first African American judge in the DC municipal court.
Mary Church Terrell is a figure of national historic significance. She led the successful fight to integrate Washington eateries. After she and her colleagues were refused service at Thompson Restaurant, she filed a lawsuit against the eatery. While waiting for the case to move forward, she engaged in boycotts and sit-ins targeting other segregated restaurants in the city. Her lawsuit resulted in a 1953 Supreme Court decision that found the practice of segregating Washington's eating places to be unconstitutional.
Mary Church Terrell was also president of the National Association of Colored Women and, later, a member of the National American Suffrage Association. In 1895 she became the first black woman in America to be appointed to a school board. She served two terms on the DC School Board, from 1895 to 1901 and again from 1906 to 1911. Her terms were defined by work towards quality education, fair hiring practices, and more adequate appropriations for schools. It was during this period that Mary Church Terrell lived in the 1892 house.
The house is a simplified version of the Victorian style. Many simplified Victorian residences were built in Washington at the turn of the 20th century. The Terrells' purchase of the home was instrumental in integrating LeDroit Park. The house is a National Historic Landmark, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and a contributing structure to the LeDroit Park Historic District.
The house is included on the DC Preservation League's Most Endangered Places list. Despite sporadic attempts at restoration, beginning in 2008, the house remains vacant. In its current, deteriorating state, it is at risk of suffering demolition by neglect.
DC Inventory: May 21, 1975
National Register: May 15, 1975