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An Activist Advocates for Women's Leadership in Improving Black Life

Mary Church Terrell was one of the first African-American women to complete a college degree. Terrell, an educator and activist, also founded the National Association of Colored Women. The National Association was organized into many local chapters. Members founded kindergartens, orphanages and boarding houses and schools where young women could learn modern domestic science techniques. National Association clubs also advocated for the right to vote, petitioned legislatures for the repeal of Jim Crow laws, and protested against the convict labor system.

Should anyone ask what special phase of the Negro's development makes me most hopeful of his ultimate triumph over present obstacles, I should answer unhesitatingly, it is the magnificent work the women are doing to regenerate and uplift the race...

Believing that it is only through the home that a people can become really good and truly great the National Association has entered that sacred domain.  Homes, more homes, better homes, purer homes is the text upon which sermons have been and will be preached.  There has been a determined effort to have heart to heart talks with our women that we may strike at the root of evils, many of which lie at the fireside...  No people need ever despair whose women are fully aroused to the duties which rest upon them...

Through the children of today we believe we can build the foundation of the next generation upon such a rock of morality, intelligence and strength, that the floods of proscription, prejudice and persecution may descend upon it in torrents and yet it will not be moved...  

Carefully and conscientiously we shall study the questions which affect the race most deeply and directly. Against the convict lease system, the Jim Crow car laws, lynchings and all other barbarities which degrade us, we shall protest with such force of logic and intensity of soul that those who oppress us will either cease to disavow the inalienability and equality of human rights or be ashamed to openly violate the very principles upon which this government was founded. By discharging our obligation to the children, by coming into the closest possible touch with the masses of our people, by studying the labor question as it affects the race, by establishing schools of domestic science, by setting a high moral standard and living up to it, by purifying the home, colored women will render their race a service whose value it is not in my power to estimate or express...

With courage born of success achieved in the past and with a keen sense of responsibility which we must continue to assume, we look forward to the future, large with promise and home.  Seeking no favors because of our color or patronage because of our needs, we knock the bar of justice and ask for an equal chance.  

Source | Mary Church Terrell, "What Role Is the Educated Negro Woman to Play in the Uplifting of Her Race?" in Twentieth Century Negro Literature, D.W. Culp, ed., 1902.  
Creator | Mary Church Terrell
Item Type | Article/Essay
Cite This document | Mary Church Terrell, “An Activist Advocates for Women's Leadership in Improving Black Life,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 5, 2023,

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