Mary Church Terrell was born in Memphis, TN in 1863. Her parents were entrepreneurs and fairly wealthy. She earned a Masters of Arts degree from Oberlin College, before pursuing studies in Europe.
Upon her return, she became quite active in Washington, DC politics and educational reform, becoming the first Black woman to serve on the DC Board of education, from 1895 to 1901 and 1906 to 1911. She also used revenue from her lectures to establish a kindergarten in the Black community. As first president and founding member of the National Association of Colored Women, she organized and taught evening classes.
The stated purpose of the Association was "...to collect all facts obtainable to show the moral, intellectual, industrial and social growth and attainments of our people, to foster unity of purpose, to consider and determine methods which will promote the interests of colored people...."