Mary Church Terrell was an important educational, civil rights, and women's rights leader in Washington for nearly 70 years. Her husband Robert H. Terrell was a distinguished teacher, lawyer, and the city's first black Municipal Court judge.
Mary Eliza Church (1863-1954), born in Memphis, Tennessee, graduated from Oberlin College in 1884. A year later she moved to Washington to teach at the M Street School (now Dunbar High School). In Washington she immersed herself in local, national, and international politics. She was the first black female member of the D.C. Board of Education, co-founder in 1892 of the Colored Woman's League, and the first president of the National Association for Colored Women in 1896. Highly literate, she was fluent in three languages. She completed her autobiography A Colored Woman in a White World in 1940. After World War II, Terrell continued her activism and engaged in non-violent direct action protests against racial discrimination in white-owned public accommodations. In 1953 her activism and organizing with other Washingtonians led to the Supreme Court decision declaring segregation in public places in Washington illegal in District of Columbia v. John R. Thompson Co.
Robert H. Terrell (1857-1925), a native Washingtonian, graduated from Preparatory High School (later M Street School and Dunbar High School), Harvard College (1884), and Howard University Law School (1890). Terrell began teaching math and science at M Street School in 1887 and served as principal of the school from 1899 until 1901. He was appointed justice of the peace by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1901. The following year he was appointed to the Washington, D.C. Municipal Court, the first African American in that position. Terrell served as a municipal judge through 1925.
The Terrells, who married in 1891, were one of the first black families to move into LeDroit Park, originally an all-white suburb. Their first home in LeDroit Park was at 1936 Fourth Street, NW, next door to Alice Moore Dunbar and Paul Laurence Dunbar (1934 Fourth Street, NW).