Mary Church Terrell, was born in 1863, the daughter of former slaves. She graduated from Oberlin College in 1884 and went on to become a civil rights and feminist activist. Terrell was a teacher and principal of M Street Colored High School in Washington, D.C., now known as Dunbar High School. She was a founding member of the National Association of Colored Women and the National Association of Colored People. Terrell was the first African American woman to serve on the Washington, D.C. Board of Education. In 1940 she published her autobiography, A Colored Woman in a White World.
In 1949, Terrell, then in her 80s, was refused service at a Washington, D.C., restaurant. She filed suit and in a case eventually decided by the Supreme Court, racial segregation of restaurants in the nation’s capital was ruled unconstitutional. Mary Church Terrell died on July 24, 1954 at the age of 90.
Terrell’s home at 326 T Street NW in Washington, D.C. was built in 1894. She and her husband Robert Heberton Terrell, an educator and law professor at Howard University and the first African American judge to serve on the District of Columbia Municipal Court, occupied the home between 1899 and 1913. In 1975, the home was designated as a National Historic Landmark and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In accordance with Terrell’s wishes, the home was bestowed to Howard University in 1987. Following years of vacancy, the home was added to the DC Preservation League’s Most Endangered Places list in 1999.
In March 2018, Howard University secured grant funding from the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service to restore the Terrell home. Work is now underway and is expected to be completed late this year.
“It is an incredible honor to be at the center of such a historic and meaningful real estate transformation,” said Derrek Niec-Williams, executive director of campus planning, architecture, and development in Howard University’s Office of Real Estate Development and Capital Asset Management. “As an anchor in DC’s African American community and site of one of the nation’s leading preservers of African American history, Howard University is well positioned to spearhead the process of preserving Mary Church Terrell’s legacy and the broader legacy of the vibrant African American community that is central to LeDroit Park’s history. We are immensely grateful to the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior for providing the resources to make this transformation possible.”