Mary Chruch Terrell
Betsy Graves Reyneau
Oil on canvas, 1946
National Portrait Gallery
Mary Church Terrell was the daughter of the South's first African American millionaire and might well have chosen to lead the genteel life of a lady of refinement, as her father urged. But after graduating from Oberlin College in 1884, Terrell rejected that course and was soon embarked on a teaching career. Forced to retire from her Washington, D.C. teaching post because of her marriage to Robert Terrell in 1891, she soon sought other outlets for her talents. In 1896 she became the first president of the National Association of Colored Women and by the early 1900s was deeply immersed in a host of efforts to improve the lot of African Americans and to combat racial discrimination. Included in those efforts was her involvement in the founding of the NAACP. Terrell's greatest single moment in the fight for black civil rights, however, came in her late eighties, when she led and won the struggle to desegregate Washington, D.C.'s lunch counters.
Originally part of the Harmon Foundation's traveling exhibition, this portrait remained in the artist's hands until it was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1996 from Reyneau's descendants.