Phyllis Terrell

Phyllis Terrell Langston (April 2, 1898 - August 1989) was a suffragist and civil rights activist. She worked alongside her mother, Mary Church Terrell, in the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs and the White House pickets during demonstrations made by the National Woman's Party.[1] Phyllis died on August 21, 1989 at her summer home in Highland Beach, Maryland - just as her mother had in July of 1954.[1]

Personal lifeEdit

Phyllis Terrell was born on April 2, 1898 in Washington, DC.[1] to Mary Church Terrell, an activist and civic leader, and Robert H. Terrell,[2]the first Black municipal court judge in D.C., and was appointed by Presidents Taft, Roosevelt, and Wilson.[1] She was named after Phyllis Wheatley, the first African-American author of a book of poetry, and had an adopted sister, Mary.[2]

Phyllis married first Lieutenant William C. Goines in 1930, and later married Lathall DeWitt Langston.[1] Her mother, Mary Church Terrell was the president of the National Association of Colored Women which exposed Phyllis Terrell to activism involving rights for women and races.[1] Seeing her mother's work, prompted Phyllis to join the National Association of Colored Women.[1] Phyllis and her mother, Mary, kept in contact through letters where Phyllis addressed her mother as "My dearest mother," and signed the letters "Your little daughter, Phyllis" or "Lovingly, Phippie" for almost 40 years.[3][4]


Phyllis, along with her mother, picketed the White House during the National Woman's Party demonstrations that called on President Woodrow Wilson to support a federal woman suffrage amendment.[1] She and her mother received pins commemorating their participation in the White House protest in 1921.[1] In August 1939, Phyllis along with her mother Mary, visited San Francisco and Oakland on a tour of California.[5] While there Phyllis visited the home of Irene Belle Ruggles, the president of the California Association of Colored Women and The Association of Colored Women of San Francisco, and listened to her mother give a speech commending the hospitable people they met on their trip and the glories of Treasure Island.[5] She became the postmaster for new generations of suffragists and civil rights organizations.[1] She also assisted historians and scholars regarding the plight of African Americans and worked closely with National Association of Colored Women's Clubs.[1] Phyllis Terrell watched the launching of a ship with Harriet Tubman's name in 1944 with a group of women from the National Council of Negro Women.[6]

The National Association of Colored Women, or NAWC, was founded in 1896 by black reformers like Sojourner Truth, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and Harriet Tubman.[7] These women were often excluded from organizations, so they created the NACW to empower women like themselves.[7] It eventually became the largest federation of local black women's clubs and Mary Church Terrell, Phyllis’s mother became the first president.[7] The NACW advocated to improve the lives of African Americans.[7] Their motto was “Lifting as We Climb” which embodied their mission of advocating for women’s rights along with improving the status of African Americans.[7]

Fredrick Douglass HomeEdit

In 1962, she succeeded in getting the Frederick Douglass Home in Washington, DC declared a National Shrine by an Act of Congress.[1] The Terrells' summer home on the Chesapeake Bay in Highland Beach, Maryland, was just next door to the home that Major Charles R. Douglass built for his father, Fredrick Douglass, in 1893.[1] Highland Beach was a regular summer vacation destination for educator Booker T. Washington; poets Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar; pioneering Black Congressmen John Mercer Langston and Blanche Kelso Bruce, and generations of Douglasses.[1]

1919 Letter from Phyllis Terrell to mother Mary Church Terrell


Phyllis attended the best schools in the northern United States and graduated from Wilberforce University, a historic black university, before becoming a teacher.[8]

While a senior student at Howard University College of Music, Phyllis was assigned to conduct piano classes in the absence of the professor.[8] She was one of the most promising students in the College of Music, commended for her natural talent at playing piano.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Biography of Phyllis Terrell (Langston), 1898-1989 | Alexander Street, a ProQuest Company". Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  2. ^ a b "Mary Church Terrell", Wikipedia, 2019-10-28, retrieved 2019-12-03
  3. ^ "Image 95 of Mary Church Terrell Papers: Family Correspondence, 1890-1955; Phyllis Terrell Goines Parks Langston (daughter); 1913-1935". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  4. ^ "Image 52 of Mary Church Terrell Papers: Family Correspondence, 1890-1955; Phyllis Terrell Goines Parks Langston (daughter); 1913-1935". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  5. ^ a b "Mrs. Terrell Here". Oakland Tribune. 13 Aug 1939.
  6. ^ "Liberty Ship Harriet Tubman is launched with impressive ceremonies in Portland". The Pittsburgh Courier. 10 Jun 1944. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  7. ^ a b c d e "National Association of Colored Women". History of U.S. Woman's Suffrage. Retrieved 2019-12-01.
  8. ^ a b c "Washington Letter". The New York Age. 22 Mar 1917. Retrieved 2019-10-29.