Mary McLeod Bethune was an education and Civil Rights activist in the early to mid 1900’s. Mary was born in 1875 in South Carolina, She grew up in poverty, one of seventeen children and was the only one of them to attend school. Absorbing what she learned at school she would try to teach her family as well so they could benefit from her education. She was a brilliant and dedicated student and eventually won a scholarship to the Scotia Seminary for girls, which she graduated from in 1893. She further studied at the Dwight Moody’s Institute for Home and Foreign Missions in Chicago for two years before returning home to become a teacher.
Her firm belief that education is what it takes to advance is what helps her truly shine. She founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls in Florida in 1904. She worked as the president of the school and the school eventually merged with the Cookman Institute for Men in 1923, becoming the Bethune-Cookman College. With higher education opportunities being limited for African Americans, the school Mary created was exceptionally important as a place to pursue a degree. To aid her endeavors she approached wealthy, white benefactors to donate to her schools, including the Rockefellers and Roosevelt.
She was also the national leader of the National Association of Colored Women for several years. She was so admired and skilled that four separate presidents sought her out for her services. Under Calvin Coolidge she participated in conferences on child welfare. Under Herbert Hoover she served on the Commission on Home Building and Home Ownership as well as a committee for child health. Under FDR she became a special advisor and at the same time began the National Council of Negro Women, a civil rights organization. She served on the Federal Council of Negro Affairs, sometimes known as the Black Cabinet, under FDR. Under Harry Truman she was appointed to a committee for national defense.
Mary spent her life fighting for the rights of women and African Americans, fighting to bring education within reach and to bring greater representation to marginalized groups in government. She passed in 1955 and has received many awards and accolades posthumously.
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