The late 1800s and early 1900s was a period of great political and social change. Marginalized communities, including women and African Americans, were demanding greater civil liberties. As the seat of the federal government, Washington, DC was an important place for activists and educators to make their voices heard.
During this time period, the Capital was home to several notable African American activists, including Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Charlotte Forten Grimke, Mary Church Terrell, and Mary McLeod Bethune. Each woman fought for civil rights and eventually moved to Washington, DC to protest, lobby, and demand greater civil rights. Stroll around the northern part of the capital city and discover where these women lived as they fought for a more equal and just America.
Toward the end of her life, Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893) lived in a brick row house at 1421 W Street in Northwest DC. She was originally born in Delaware and became an activist, writer, teacher, and lawyer. Cary became a member of the National Woman Suffrage Association and founder of the Colored Women’s Progressive Franchise Association. Today, her house is listed as a National Historic Landmark as it helps us understand her life and work as an advocate for the equality of all people.
Located half a mile away from the Mary Ann Shadd Cary house is the former residence of Charlotte Forten Grimke (1837-1914), located at 1608 R Street NW. Born free in 1837, Grimke grew up to be an educator. In 1872, she moved to Washington, DC, where she taught at the M Street School, later known as Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. In 1896, Forten helped found the National Association of Colored Women and she continued to fight for civil rights until her death in 1914. Her former house is a National Historic Landmark and stands as a testament to her formative role in the early civil rights movement.
Like Grimke, other notable black women taught at the M Street School, including Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954). Originally from Memphis, TN, Terrell moved to Washington, DC in 1887 and lived at 326 T Street, NW. In addition to serving as president of the National Association of Colored Women, Terrell also supported black women’s right to vote. She even picketed the White House demanding women’s suffrage. Her home is now a National Historic Landmark and at stands as a reminder of her tireless advocacy.
After your stop at the Mary Church Terrell House, take a stroll down Rhode Island Avenue and discover the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site. Plan your visit to learn more about her life and work.
Last updated: June 26, 2018