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.

PrintTwo Fifty-Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • gain empathy for the position of a 19th century African-American woman.
  • identify the language techniques of  Terrell in her writing to rally and unite others to her causes.
  • explain the importance of actions such as Terrell's to protect minority voices.

Student copies of the handout Briefing Paper Questions


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Tell students that as a black woman in the year 1890, Mary Terrell would have faced many obstacles to being respected and have impact, but she was a prolific writer and activist who made a difference for African Americans and women. They are going to read about her to learn about her personal and persuasive writing strengths. 

  2. Direct students to read the paper about Mary Eliza Church Terrell on and answer questions on the handout Briefing Paper Questions

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

  4. For closure, have students write about the traits in people like Terrell that are essential for positive social change.


Assess students' answers to the Terrell questions on the handout Briefing Paper Questions for accuracy.  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.