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Mary Church Terrell Mary Eliza Church was born in Memphis Tennessee on September 23 1863 to Louisa Ayres Church and Robert Church both former slaves The Church family however soon settled into the black middle-class After the Civil War Robert opened a money making saloon and during the yellow fever outbreak of 1878-79 he unlike many of Memphis residents did not abandon his property Rather he bought as much land and property as he could and became the first black Memphis millionaire Louisa Church owned a successful hair salon the monies from which provided the family with its first home and carriage When Church Terrell was about three years old her parents divorced Her mother was granted custody of the two children Mary and Thomas Her father continued to see and support his family and ensured that Mary obtained the best education available to a black woman in the nineteenth century In 1891 Church married Robert Terrell a young lawyer she had met while working at the Colored High School in Washington DC Robert Terrell worked for many years in education and law and became the first black judge for the District of Columbia a post he held for over twenty years 1902-25 through Republican and Democratic presidents Terrell and Church had one child Phillis named after the eighteenth-century poet Phillis Wheatley In addition to Phillis the couple adopted the daughter Mary of Church Terrells brother Thomas After both Robert Terrells and Thomas Churchs death Church Terrell also raised her brothers son Robert Church Terrell attended Antioch Universitys Model School where she excelled She like many other young black women of this era obtained a Bachelors degree in 1884 from Oberlin College which was run by abolitionists and had admitted blacks in 1835 Instead of taking the Literary or ladies course a two-year degree Mary chose the more greatly Classical or gentlemens course a four-year degree While teaching at the Colored High School
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