Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Mission of a Meddler: Mixed Matters of Class, Gender, and Race in Mary Church Terrell's Model of Elite Black Female Activism
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
In The Mission of Meddlers, published in 1905 in The Voice of the Negro, Mary Church Terrell called to action a cadre of change agents who dared to ask prejudiced, cast-ridden bigots by what right they humiliate and harass their fellowmen simply on account of a difference in color, class or races. As the privileged daughter of Robert Reed Church, Sr., hailed as the Souths first black millionaire, Terrell upon completion of college could easily have complied with her fathers wishes to have her reside at his Memphis mansion and enjoy the genteel lifestyle of a Southern belle. She chose instead to use her mettle as an elite black woman to combat gender bias and race discrimination. The goal of this dissertation is to illustrate how Terrell, meddler on a mission, did not merely react to gender and racial inequality but consistently dictated through transformative leadership the very direction of the national dialogue for the enacting, enabling, and enforcing of federal protective legislation. Terrells autobiography, A Colored Woman in a White World, is supplemented with newspaper articles, excerpts from her diary, reflections from selected contemporaries, Congressional records, and court cases to analyze how her ancestry, affluence, and academic training gave dimensionality, or multifaceted layers, to her class stature. These sources also show how Terrell crafted female concentricity, or common circles with diverse female groups, by building self-help networks with elite black clubwomen; providing community service to poor black women; and forging political alliances with white suffragists. Stuart Hall, the late black British cultural theorist, wrote in a 1978 study that race is the modality in which class is lived. This dissertation argues that transforming the modality of race was the greatest roadblock that Terrell faced in implementing her mission as a meddler; indeed, race was the window through which both class and gender were viewed. Terrells class standing did not exempt her from racial bias, and even elite black women by virtue of their race were not considered ladies. Terrell fought racial inequality through her intrepid service as a liaison with Frederick Douglass in their 1993 White House visit that drew national attention to lynching; as lobbyist on behalf of the Brownsville soldiers dismissed without due process in 1906; and as launchpad for the chartering of the NAACP in 1909. Terrells picketing of Washington, D.C. segregated public accommodations in the 1950s as an octogenarian with the lost laws as her basis was the capstone of her long and fruitful career as a meddler. Terrell remained resolute that the thorny issue of race often overshadowed her class standing and proved darker in tone than gender bias. Though she was a colored woman in a white world determined to limit her to a separate sphere and within racial boundaries, this dissertation will show that Terrell through her writings, speeches, and direct action campaigns led the vanguard of black activists determined to dictate a different direction.
Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to ProQuest
Gray, Victoria Jackson, "Mission of a Meddler: Mixed Matters of Class, Gender, and Race in Mary Church Terrell's Model of Elite Black Female Activism" (2019). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2903.
Available for download on Saturday, May 25, 2024
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