Mary McLEod Bethune

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Mary McLeod Bethune was an African American educator, philanthropist, and Civil Rights activist whose work changed education and rights for Black people in America.

Early Life

Mary McLeod Bethune was born on July 10th, 1875 in Mayesville, South Carolina. She grew up in a poor household, and her parents, who were former slaves had a total of 17 children including her. A missionary school for African American children opened near Bethune's area, and she attended this school, becoming the first in her family to get an education. She later got a scholarship to the Scotia Seminary, which is now known as Barber-Scotia College. Bethune graduated in 1894 and then went to Dwight Moody's Institute for Home and Foreign Missions, in Chicago.


2 years later, she moved back to South Carolina, where she began teaching. Bethune met and fell in love with Albertus Bethune, another teacher in the area, and they later married. In 1899, she gave birth to their son, and Palatka, Florida. In 1904, after Bethune's marriage ended, she opened up a boarding school called Daytona Beach Literary and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls. The school started with only 5 students, and in time, she was able to grow the school to have over 250 students. Bethune's school later became a college, and it merged with the Cookman Institute, an all-male school, becoming the Bethune-Cookman College. After women were given the right to vote, Bethune led voter registration drives that helped many women gain access to voting. In 1924, she was elected president of the National Association of Colored Women, and in 1935, she founded and became president of the National Council of Negro Women. Bethune was a leader in helping Black voters transition from the Republican Party (Lincoln's party) to the Democratic Party during the Great Depression. She was a friend of former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and in 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt named Bethune director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration. This made her the highest-ranking Black woman in government. A year after being appointed, in 1937 Bethune advocated against discrimination and fought for an end to lynching through a conference called the Problems of the Negro and the Negro Youth. In 1940, she was appointed vice president of the NAACP, and she held this position for the remainder of her life. Bethune also helped in ensuring that the Women's Army Corps was racially integrated before it was officially started. In 1945, she was appointed to the founding conference of the United Nation by Harry S. Truman, along with W.E.B. Dubois, where she was the only woman of color. Bethune died on May 18, 1955, and in 1974, her life was honored with a statue of memorial in Washington D.C., and a postage stamp in 1985.

Mary McLeod Bethune changed education, rights, and the way of life for Black Americans. She helped so many people get an education, and get voting rights, but more importantly, she inspired so many people through her accomplishments during a time when most of America discriminated against women and African Americans.