Terrell, Mary Eliza Church
- Cynthia Neverdon-Morton
educator and social activist, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the daughter of Robert Reed Church, a businessman, and Louisa Ayres, a beautician and hair salon owner. Her father, a former slave, used his business acumen to become the first black millionaire in the South.
Mary's educational experiences reflected her privileged background. After completing her elementary education at the Antioch College laboratory school in Yellow Springs, Ohio, she attended the Oberlin Academy (1875–1880) and Oberlin College (1880–1884), earning a BA with a concentration in Classical Languages. While at Oberlin College, she received many honors, including appointment as the freshman class poet, editor of the Oberlin Review, and member of the Aeolian Society. It was also at Oberlin that she encountered overt racism, which strengthened her resolve to excel.
After graduation Mary wanted to teach but was persuaded by her father not to work ...
A version of this article originally appeared in African American National Biography.