Mary Eliza Church Terrell-Civil Rights Leader

9, 10, 11, 12

By reading about her life and her work, students will understand how Mary Eliza Church Terrell’s writing and activism brought about change for African Americans and women.

Lesson Rating 
PrintTwo Fifty-Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • recall information and knowledge from United States history, place him/herself in the position of a 19th century African-American woman, and imagine what he/she would do to improve his/her situation.
  • read a paper about 19th century activist and writer Mary Eliza Church Terrell and summarize what he/she read by answering related questions.
  • identify the language techniques from a sample of her writing that Terrell uses in her writing/speech to rally and unite others to her causes.
  • understand the importance of actions such as Terrell's to protect minority voices.

Student copies of the handout Briefing Paper Questions


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Have students imagine life for an African American woman in the year 1890. Make a list of possible obstacles she would have faced and then another list of things she could have done about it. Tell them that they are about to study a woman who was in that position.

  2. Direct students to and have them read the paper about Mary Eliza Church Terrell.

  3. Students will read the briefing paper and answer the questions from the handout Briefing Paper Questions. Have them turn in their responses for evaluation.

  4. If students finish before the end of the class period, have them browse the other briefing papers to learn about other philanthropists.

  5. Day Two:

  6. Return student responses to Mary Eliza Church Terrell questions and discuss, paying close attention to question four.

  7. Have several volunteers say Terrell's speech in front of the class, as they imagine she would have said it for maximum effect.

  8. For closure, have students write about why people like Terrell are essential for positive social change.


Assess students' answers to the Terrell questions on the handout Briefing Paper Questions for accuracy. Evaluate students' participation in Day Two's discussion using your own methods. Assess students' answers to the closure question based on thoughtfulness.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Analyze philanthropic traditions of diverse cultural groups and their contributions to civil society.
      2. Benchmark HS.5 Describe how women and minority groups have used the civil society sector as an alternative power structure.
      3. Benchmark HS.7 Identify and give examples of the important roles women and minorities have played in the civil society sector in history.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark HS.12 Explain why private action is important to the protection of minority voices.
  2. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Cite historical examples of citizen actions that affected the common good.