Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954) earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s 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 DC, where she taught at M Street High School. In October 1891, she married fellow teacher Robert H. Terrell (1857-1925). He was an attorney and the second African American to serve as a justice of the peace in Washington, DC.
Mary Church Terrell is a figure of national historic significance. She was the 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. Terrell 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.
She also led the successful fight to integrate DC restaurants. 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 DC’s eating places to be unconstitutional.
In their time living in DC, the Terrells’ purchase of their home was instrumental in integrating LeDroit Park. Today, 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. However, the house is included in the DC Preservation League’s Most Endangered Places list. Despite sporadic attempts at restoration, the house remains vacant. Though the house is currently in a deteriorated state, the current owner, Howard University, plans to rehabilitate the property and use it as a museum and cultural center.
DC Inventory: May 21, 1975
National Register: May 15, 1975
National Historic Landmark: May 15, 1975
This site is included in the Women's Suffrage in Washington DC tour for its role as the home of suffragist leader Mary Church Terrell, president of the National Association of Colored Women.