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(1904) Mary Church Terrell, “The Progress of Colored Women”

Mary Church Terrell, the daughter of former slaves, became by the beginning of the 20th century one of the most articulate spokespersons for womens rights including full suffrage.  In 1896 she was elected president of the National Association of Colored Women and by 1910 she was a charter member of the newly formed National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  In the address below she describes the specific challenges facing African American women and argues that education and religious faith are the safeguards against discrimination.

WHEN ONE CONSIDERS the obstacles encountered by colored women in their effort to educate and cultivate themselves, since they became free, the work they have accomplished and the progress they have made will bear favorable comparison, at least with that of their more fortunate sisters, from whom the opportunity of acquiring knowledge and the means of self-culture have never been entirely withheld. Not only are colored women with ambition and aspiration handicapped on account of their sex, but they are almost everywhere baffled and mocked because of their race. Not only because they are women, but because they are colored women, are discouragement and disappointment meeting them at every turn. But in spite of the obstacles encountered, the progress made by colored women along many lines appears like a veritable miracle of modern times. Forty years ago for the great masses of colored women, there was no such thing as home. Today in each and every section of the country there are hundreds of homes among colored people, the mental and moral tone of which is as high and as pure as can be found among the best people of any land.

To the women of the race may be attributed in large measure the refinement and purity of the colored home. The immorality of colored women is a theme upon which those who know little about them or those who maliciously misrepresent them love to descant. Foul aspersions upon the character of colored women are assiduously circulated by the

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