Isaiah Milligan Terrell, educator, was born on January 3, 1859, near the city of Anderson, Grimes County, Texas. Terrell was the son of Alexander, a blacksmith, and Nancy (Oneil) Terrell. Terrell received a private education taught by two missionaries. He was a graduate of Straight University in New Orleans in 1881 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He also received his Master of Arts degree at Straight University.
In 1881 Terrell was hired as a private school teacher in Anderson, Texas. After teaching one year in Grimes County, he was selected by Fort Worth's Superintendent of Schools, Alexander Hogg, to head the first free public school for African-Americans, called the East Ninth Street Colored School. On February 7, 1883, Terrell married Marcelite Landry, an accomplished music teacher whom he met while both were attending Straight University. They had two sons.
The Teachers State Association of Texas, organized to advance quality education for African-Americans as well as proper working conditions for African-American teachers, was founded in 1884. In 1885 I. M. Terrell and twelve other colleagues met at Prairie View Normal School (now Prairie View A&M University) and organized the Colored Teachers State Association of Texas.
In 1890 Terrell was named Principal and Superintendent of Colored Schools. The East Ninth Street School was moved to the corner of East Twelfth and Stedman streets in a property trade with the Fort Worth and Denver Railroad in 1906, and renamed North Side Colored High School No. 11. In 1909 a bond election provided funds for a new building, which opened in May 1910. I. M. Terrell was named principal and served until 1915. In honor of its former principal, the school was named I. M. Terrell High School in 1921. The school at East Twelfth and Stedman streets became an elementary and junior high school in 1938, when Terrell High School was moved to its present location at 1411 East 18th Street. During Terrell's years of service in the Fort Worth public schools, the first fireproof school building in Texas for African-Americans was built.
Terrell was a member of the Mount Gilead Baptist Church in Fort Worth. Mount Gilead in 1913 was the oldest Black church (founded in 1876) in the city and was the largest African-American church of any denomination in Texas. Terrell was superintendent of Sunday school with a membership of 400.
On October 15, 1915, Terrell became the fifth principal of Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College and was administrator at Prairie View from 1915 to 1918. During his administration, an agricultural extension service was begun. Plans were implemented for the initiation of college studies leading to the Bachelor degree; vocational education under the Smith Hughes plan was approved for Blacks in the state, and Prairie View was selected as the teacher training institution. Terrell's period of administration, which crossed the years of World War I, was marked by improvements in both physical development and in programs and services. He converted Foster, Luckie, and Crawford halls into administrative, instructional, and power units. The Household Arts Building and Power and Ice Plant, and the Laundry were erected in 1918.
In 1918 Terrell was made president of Houston College (also known as Houston Baptist Academy) in Houston's Fourth Ward. Terrell served a tenure of approximately five years. In 1923 he became superintendent of the Union Hospital. He retired in 1925 from Houston College and then began work to secure funding for the new Houston Negro Hospital. At its dedication in 1926, he was made the first superintendent and in 1928 became superintendent emeritus. This hospital later became Riverside General Hospital. Terrell was a charter member of the District Grand Lodge No. 25 of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, which he helped to organize.
Isaiah Milligan Terrell died on September 28, 1931, in Houston, Texas. "As a builder of concerns with which he was connected, he had but few equals. He was an advocate for education. The I. M. Terrell High School in Fort Worth, buildings at Prairie View A&M University, and the Houston Negro Hospital (Riverside General Hospital) all stand as monuments of his efforts and achievements."