Lift as We Climb: Reflections on the Life of Mary Church Terrell

When we think of influence, we might think of social media influences. A lot of times, people who are “influencers” help someone to use a product or a service. But there’s so much more to being an influencer.

In honor of Women’s History month, I am choosing to reflect on some black women who were and still are history makers! These are women who were of great influence during the time that they were living. Whether we realize it or not, we all have influence.

But, what if we used our influence for the betterment of others?

This is the kind of person that Mary Church Terrell was.

The beginning: Mary Eliza Church Terrell was born to her parents, Robert Reed Church and Louisa Ayisa Church in Memphis, TN in the year of 1863. Both of her parents were successful business people. Her father was one of the first black millionaires and her mom was one of the first black women to own a beauty salon.

Mary’s parents divorced when she was young. However, her parents knew the value of a college education. Mary enrolled at Antioch College where she studied fine arts. At the time, this was the only college that allowed both women and minorities to attend.

Mary Terrell was one of two black people in her class but it is reported that she felt that she was treated equally to her classmates. Mary studied fine arts at Antioch College. She valued a challenge. As a result, she took classes that were offered to men.

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Road of advocacy and fight against racial discrimination: Mary’s awakening to activism started in 1893. At the time, her friend, a successful black businessman at the time, was killed by white business men.

Mary believed that discrimination could be ended through work, education and community activism. She taught at different schools in the Washington DC area. Mary Church Terrell met her husband, Robert Heberton Terrell, while she was teaching at M Street School in Washington, DC. They were married in 1891. Mary was the first black person to be appointed to the Washington DC board of education in 1895. While in this role, Mary went to various schools to raise funds and encourage schools to celebrate the legacy of Fredrick Douglas.

Mary Terrell helped to start the National Association of Colored Women in 1896. Her words “lift as we climb” became the motto of this organization. Mary Terrell was also one of the founding members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Mary Terrell played an influential role in the women’s suffrage movement. Mary Terrell influenced the supreme’s court decision of discrimination in eating places being unconstitutional.

Mary Church Terrell used her privileges for the advancement of women and minorities. The world is such a better place because of her influence.

Photo by Gabby K on

What we can learn from Mary’s life:

  • We might not all be faced with the same privileges but all of us can use the benefits that we have to be of benefit to someone else.
  • If you see something that is unfair, speak up.
  • If you see an opportunity that someone could benefit from, share with them.
  • Let us not be selfish but like Mary, use our influence to help others when we are able to do so.

Did you learn anything from reading about the life of Mary Church Terrell?

There is so much more that could be said about the life of Mary Church Terrell but I hope that this gives you a small glimpse into her life.

Please note that the information presented here was borrowed from other sources and is used for educational purposes only. The author of this blog post will not receive any financial compensation for this blog post.

Information obtained for this blog post was borrowed from:

The blog post, “Lift As We Climb: Reflections on Mary Church Terrell” first appeared at on Friday, March 5, 2021.

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