Terrell, Mary Peters Young (1846–1920)

By: Margaret Irby Nichols

Type: Biography

Published: July 1, 1995

Updated: December 28, 2020

Mary Terrell, teacher, clubwoman, and library advocate, was born in Arkansas on November 29, 1846, the eldest daughter and third child of Dr. Benjamin Franklin and Anne (Peters) Young. In 1847 the family moved to Marshall, Texas, where Mary grew to maturity. In 1864 she graduated from Marshall Masonic Female Institute, a school her father had helped found and for which he served as a trustee. For the next twenty-three years she taught in local schools. She was a devout Presbyterian and became an avid student of the Bible. In 1887, at the age of forty-one, she married Joseph Christopher Terrell, a Fort Worth attorney and a widower. While raising five stepchildren, Mary Terrell became prominent in women's club work in Fort Worth. She was a founder of the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs in 1897 and served as its second president. During her two terms in office (1899–1901), she urged Texas women's clubs to establish local public libraries, and many did. Women's clubs are credited with having founded 70 percent of the state's libraries. Mrs. Terrell led the federation in its successful fight for a Texas library commission and also supported the founding of the Girls' Industrial School in Denton (now Texas Woman's University). After her second term as Texas federation president, she served as a director of the General Federation of Women's Clubs from 1902 to 1904. She also was an organizer and a charter member of the Texas State Library Association (now the Texas Library Association), founded in 1902, and served as its vice president for two terms. In March 1909, Governor Thomas M. Campbell appointed her to the first Texas State Library and Historical Commission, a post she held until 1911. After the death of her husband in 1909 Mary Terrell returned to Marshall, where she spent the remaining eleven years of her life. She died on October 16, 1920, and was buried at East Oakwood Cemetery in Fort Worth.

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Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 17, 1920. Buckley B. Paddock, ed., A Twentieth Century History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis, 1906).

  • Women
  • Women's Clubs
Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Margaret Irby Nichols, “Terrell, Mary Peters Young,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 16, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/terrell-mary-peters-young.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 1, 1995
December 28, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: