because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mary Church Terrell

"While most girls run away to marry, I ran away to teach," Mary Church Terrell once said. The wonder is that she ran away from home at all. Her father, born a slave, had made a very great deal of money buying and selling real estate in Memphis, Tennessee, by the time Terrell was born. So nobody would have blamed her if she had just hunkered down and been rich for the rest of her life. But Terrell was too smart for that. And too in-your-face by a long shot.

So she became the class poet at Oberlin College (the student body of which was primarily White and male) and graduated first with her bachelor's degree and then with her Master's, editing The Oberlin Review when she had a minute. Becoming a college teacher herself, Terrell did ultimately marry at the age of twenty-eight (which was old for a woman at that time). But even after marriage, she let Frederick Douglass persuade her to remain an activist, rather than settle down to be a respectable judge's wife.

So she served on the District of Columbia Board of Education for a decade in the late 1800's and early 1900's. She was active in the National American Women Suffrage Association. She helped to form the Federation of Afro-American Women and served as the first President of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs. She founded the National Association of University Women, was the only Black woman at the International Congress of Women in Berlin in 1904, was one of the founding members of the NAACP, helped to organize the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., picketed the White House over one thing or another on a regular basis, and helped to force the desegregation of restaurants in Washington, D.C., in the early 1950's. In her eighties. An in-your-face woman may look soft and pretty, but sometimes that's just camouflage.

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