Facts about Mary Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune died at 79 years old
Born: July 10, 1875
Died: May 18, 1955
Best known as: The founder of the National Council for Negro Women


Mary McLeod Bethune Biography

Name at birth: Mary Jane McLeod

Mary McLeod Bethune was a leading educator and school founder who served as an unofficial advisor on African-American issues to presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.

Born to parents who had grown up as slaves, Mary Jane McLeod was the only one of 17 children in her family to go to school. After graduating in 1893 from Scotia Seminary for Girls in North Carolina (now Barber-Scotia College), and then spending time at Bible college in Chicago, she dedicated herself to educating others, working at schools in Georgia and South Carolina.

She founded Florida’s Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Girls in 1904. The school merged with the Cookman Institute for Men in 1923 and became Bethune-Cookman College, one of the few black colleges in the country (and one which endures today).

A firm believer in education as a path to racial equality, Mary McLeod Bethune focused on vocational education and social activism and became a worldwide public figure. In 1935 she founded the National Council for Negro Women, and in 1936 she was appointed by President Roosevelt as the director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration, a post she held until 1943, when she returned to her school in Daytona Beach.

Mary McLeod Bethune also served as a consultant to the United Nations, was honored in Haiti and Liberia, and was a vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. One of the most famous black women leaders of her day, Bethune has been honored with a memorial in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C. (1974) and a U.S. postage stamp (1985).

Extra credit

Mary McLeod married Albertus Bethune in 1898. They had one son, Albert. The Bethunes separated in 1907 but never divorced; Albertus Bethune died in 1918… Mary McLeod Bethune was known as the “First Lady of Negro America,” according to Bethune-Cookman College. The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project says Bethune was known as the “First Lady of The Struggle.”


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