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Bethune, Mary McLeod 1875–1955

Mary McLeod Bethune 18751955

Educator, government official, and activist

At a Glance

Her Dream Became Reality

Served as College President

Promoted Dignity as Black Organizer

Played a Role in National Politics

Active Final Years

Selected writings

Sources

Mary McLeod Bethune rose from poverty to become one of the nations most distinguished African American leaders and the most prominent black woman of her time. Her life encompassed three different careers: as an educator, she was the central figure in the creation of Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida; as founder and president of the National Council of Negro Women, she was a leading force in developing the black womens organization movement; and in the political realm, she was one of the few blacks to hold influential positions in the federal bureaucracy during President Franklin D. Roosevelts administration.

Favoring conciliation over confrontation in her struggle for black equality in an era of segregation, Bethune has been compared to Booker T. Washington. Like him, her leadership style focused on negotiating and cooperating with white leaders to improve the inferior status and economic impoverishment of blacks in American life. By presenting the public image of an affable, non-threatening woman to white audiences, she appealed to their conscience and sense of fair play while clearly expressing her vision of racial equality.

Born in 1875 near Mayesville, South Carolina, Mary McLeod was the fifteenth of 17 children. Her parents were former slaves freed at the time of the Civil War. Though poor by national standards, the McLeod family was a symbol of stability and unity in the local black community. They had worked and saved to buy their own land, building a cabin and growing corn and cotton. Their strong Methodist religious values and work ethics were instilled in Mary at an early age.

Bethunes education began at a free school established near Mayesville by Emma Wilson, a black missionary sent by the Northern Presbyterian Church. After exhausting the educational opportunities at this small school, the young student sought to continue her studies elsewhere. Wilson found a white patron from Denver, Colorado, who financed Bethunes continued education at Scotia Seminary (later Barber-Scotia College), a Presbyterian school for black girls in Concord, North Carolina. Scotia Seminary emphasized religion and industrial (trade school) education. Its racially mixed faculty was Bethunes first intellectual exposure to whites, teaching her that cooperation between the races was possible and that skin color had nothing to do with intelligence.

At a Glance

Born Mary Jane McLeod, July 10, 1875, near Mayesville, SC; died May 18, 1955, in Daytona Beach, FL; daughter of Samuel (a farmer) and Patsy (a domestic worker; maiden name, McIntosh) McLeod; married Albertus Bethune (a teacher and menswear salesman), May, 1898; later separated; children: Albert McLeod Bethune. Education: Graduated from Scotia Seminary (later Barber-Scotia College), Concord, NC, 1893; attended Bible Institute for Home and Foreign Missions (now Moody Bible Institute), Chicago, IL, 1893-95. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Methodist.

Instructor at Haines Normal and Industrial Institute, Augusta, GA, 1895-96; at Kindell Institute, Sumter, SC, 1897-98; and at Palatka Mission School, Palatka, FL, 1899-1903; founder and president of Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute, Daytona Beach, FL (now Bethune-Cookman College), 1904-42, president emeritus, 1942-55. Director of Division of Negro Affairs for National Youth Administration, 1935-43; special adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on minority affairs, 1936-44; special assistant to Secretary of War for selection of candidates for the Womens Army Corps (WAC), 1945; special representative of the U.S. State Department at San Francisco Conference, 1945, establishing the United Nations.

Member: Florida Federation of Colored Women (president, 1917-24); Southeast Federation of Colored Women (president, 1920-24); National Association of Colored Women (president, 1924-28); National Council of Negro Women (founder and president, 1935-49).

Selected awards: NAACP Spingarn Medal, 1935; Frances Drexel Award for Distinguished Service, 1937; Thomas Jefferson Award, 1942; Robert S. Abbott Memorial Award, 1953; and several honorary degrees.

After graduating from Scotia, Bethune enrolled at the Bible Institute for Home and Foreign Missions (now the Moody Bible Institute) in Chicago, again with a scholarship. She finished her studies in 1895 and thereafter sought missionary service. I wanted to go to Africa and spend my life bringing Christianity to my kinsmen, she told the Literary Digest in 1937. But the Presbyterian Mission Board told her it had no openings in Africa for black missionaries.

Instead the 20-year-old Bethune went to teach at the Haines Normal and Industrial Institute in Augusta, Georgia. The schools dynamic black founder and principal, Lucy Laney, instilled in Bethune a different sense of missionone of bringing educational opportunities to blacks in her own country.

After a year at Haines, she returned to her native South Carolina to teach at the Kindell Institute in Sumter. There she met Albertus Bethune, a former teacher who had become a menswear salesman. After marrying in May of 1898 they moved to Savannah, Georgia, to further his business career. She retired temporarily from teaching, and gave birth to their only child, Albert McLeod Bethune, in 1899. Later that year, with a six-month-old baby, the family moved again, this time to Palatka, Florida, where Mary opened the Palatka Mission School, teaching there for five years. Albertus Bethune did not share his wifes missionary zeal, however, and the couple separated. He died in 1918.

Construction of the Florida East Coast Railway was attracting and employing large numbers of black laborers in northern Florida. Recounting her 1904 arrival in Daytona Beach years later in Readers Digest, Bethune recalled finding ignorance and meager educational facilities, social prejudice and crime. This was the place to plant my seed. Reportedly beginning with only $1.50 in savings, Bethune rented a four-room cottage and opened her school that October with six pupilsfive girls and her son. She raised additional money by tirelessly soliciting funds door-to-door. Most school furnishings came from the city dump; used and discarded items like chairs, desks, rugs, and dishes were collected and repaired by the students.

Her Dream Became Reality

Bethunes powerful personality, unbounded determination, religious faith, and shrewd business skills soon made the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute a phenomenal success. Within two years enrollment had increased to 250 students, mostly girls. Continued growth soon required a larger campus. In 1907 Bethune purchased a field used as a local dump for $250 and began construction of the first building on the schools new campus, Faith Hall. At first, like most black schools of the time, the institute stressed religion and industrial training, the learning of trade skills for future employment. But as time went on the Daytona Institute began to devote more attention to its high school programs and to encouraging ambitious students to attend college.

Bethune saw her school as the center of the local black community, with its primary goal being the promotion of the overall welfare of this constituency. A variety of programs to achieve this mission included a day and night school, a series of local mission schools run by her students in the turpentine camps surrounding the town, and Sunday afternoon community meetings that brought black and white visitors to campus on equal footing. Once inside the walls of the college there are neither blacks nor whites, only ladies and gentlemen, Bethune told the Literary Digest.

In 1911 Bethune established a hospital alongside the school after her students were refused service in Daytona Beachs whites-only hospital. This school-maintained black hospital grew from two to 20 beds until taken over by the city in 1927. Championing the need for greater educational, social, and political opportunities for blacks, she defied the local Ku Klux Klan by leading a successful black voter registration drive in 1920, particularly among women who had just been granted the vote by constitutional amendment. Her guiding motto was be calm, be steadfast, be courageous.

Strong support by the local black community and influential whites, including James M. Gamble of Procter & Gamble and Thomas H. White of the White Sewing Machine Company, spurred the schools expansion. By 1923 the Daytona Institute had 300 girls enrolled and a 25-member faculty and staff on its eight-building, 20-acre campus. Though most were elementary students, the high school and teacher-training programs were growing.

Served as College President

Also in 1923 Bethune transformed her school into a college whose primary purpose was the training of future teachers. With the sponsorship of the Board of Education for Negroes of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Daytona Institute was merged with the Cookman Institute, a Jacksonville, Florida, mens college. The new coeducational school doubled its enrollment to 600 and was officially renamed Bethune-Cookman College in 1929. Three years later it received junior college accreditation. The high school department was discontinued in 1936, and the first graduates of its four-year teacher education program received their degrees in 1943.

As college president, Bethune traveled throughout the United States soliciting funds for her school, often using her talent as singer and orator to charm potential donors. At the same time Bethune began her rise to national prominence through her work in organizing the black womens club movement. From 1917 to 1924 she was president of the Florida Federation of Colored Women. In 1920 she founded and served as president of a regional association that became the Southeastern Federation of Colored Women. Four years later she became president of the 10,000-member National Association of Colored Women (NACW), at that time thought to be the highest position a black women could achieve.

Promoted Dignity as Black Organizer

Bethunes tenure was marked by her ceaseless attempts to project a positive image of black women. She traveled widely making countless speeches, defending the dignity of black women by refusing to answer to Mary, Auntie, or any other common derogatory remarks of the era. A large woman, she developed a flair for dress characterized by capes, velvet dresses, jewelry, and a cane she carried for swank. At the organizational level, she affiliated the NACW with the white-run National Council of Women, revised its constitution, raised enough money to establish its first permanent headquarters in Washington, D.C., and promoted better communication between members.

Still, Bethune felt the NACW was too locally oriented to present an effective national voice for black women. So in 1935 she created the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) by uniting the major national black womens associations. As NCNW president from its founding until 1949, Bethune focused the organizations activities against segregation and discrimination toward black women, on cultivating better international relations, and on national liberal causes. She established national headquarters in Washington, D.C., chapters in major cities, employed a full-time staff, and published the Aframerican Womens Journal.

In addition, Bethune found time to serve as president of the National Association of Teachers in Colored Schools, vice-president of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, and president of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. She also worked with the Southern Conference for Human Welfare, the National Urban League, and the NAACP, which presented her with its Spingarn Medal for distinguished achievement in 1935.

Played a Role in National Politics

Bethune had met Eleanor Roosevelt through her club work. The presidents wife used her influence to have Bethune appointed to the National Advisory Committee of the National Youth Administration (NYA) in 1935, a New Deal agency established to help young people find employment during the Depression. The 35 advisory committee members were civic and professional leaders who formulated nationwide NYA policy.

Bethune also served as director of the NYAs Division of Negro Affairs from its creation in 1935 until it was terminated in 1943. Here, she forcefully advocated a program of equitable representation of blacks in all levels (national, state, and local) of the NYAs administration. Though pragmatically accepting segregation as an unfortunate reality, she nevertheless insisted upon equal, albeit often separate, consideration of blacks in all agency activities and programs. She continually pressed for greater opportunities for black youths to learn skilled trades, and for their later employment in defense industries during World War II.

The college president was becoming a national leader for black interests. In August of 1936 she brought together in her home blacks holding various positions in the Roosevelt administration to plan strategy to secure a better life for African Americans under the New Deal. Weekly meetings of this black cabinet at Bethunes house supported the emerging drive for civil rights, promoted nondiscrimination in government facilities, sought greater opportunities for blacks in government jobs, and urged black support of the New Deal, President Roosevelts historic program that effectively ended the Depression.

Drawing upon her growing power and influence, Bethune gained NYA support for two national conferences in 1937 and 1939 that spotlighted the plight of blacks throughout the nation. Personally bringing the conference findings to President Roosevelt, she urged him to advance civil rights. Bethune also used her personal friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt to advance the black cause.

Working outside government, Bethune promoted civil rights reforms by marching and picketing Washington, D.C., businesses that refused to hire blacks. She spoke and demonstrated to gain rights for black sharecroppers, and became a regular speaker for the NAACP and other civil rights organizations. She also supported drives to free the Scottsboro Boysnine young black men who were accused of raping two white women on a freight train and were tried in Scottsboro, Alabama, in 1931. The men were hastily convicted although the case went on for 20 years, even after one of the plaintiffs recanted her story and medical evidence could not prove that rape was committed.

Addressing white organizations, Bethune adopted her more subdued and affable, down-home style. Typical is a speech during a 1937 NYA field trip through Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri recounted by B. Joyce Ross in the Journal of Negro History. You white folks have long been eating the white meat of the chicken. We Negroes are now ready for some of the white meat instead of the dark meat.

Active Final Years

Ill health forced Bethune to give up the presidency of Bethune-Cookman College in 1942, though she remained president emeritus until her death. When the NYA disbanded in 1943, she left government service, but served as special representative of the U.S. State Department at the 1945 San Francisco Conference that established the United Nations. She also acted as special assistant to the secretary of war for selection of candidates for the Womens Army Corps (WAC) that same year. She resigned as NCNW president in 1949, retiring to her home in Daytona Beach that she later deeded to the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation in 1953 to promote research, interracial activity, and the sponsorship of wider educational opportunities.

Until her death from a heart attack in 1955 Bethune remained the most influential black woman in the United States, continuing her struggle for equal rights. She received many national and international honors for her work, and in 1952 traveled to Liberia as U.S. representative to the inauguration of that African countrys president.

Knowing death was imminent, Bethune wrote My Last Will and Testament for Ebony magazine, laying out the principles by which she had led her life. To future generations she stressed her legacy of love for others, hope for the future, a thirst for education, respect for the uses of power, faith in God, belief in racial dignity, the challenge of developing confidence in blacks and black institutions, a desire to live harmoniously with all races, and everyones responsibility to the young.

Bethunes remarkable leadership skills and dynamic oratory brought the problems of African-Americans to national attention. Though usually conciliatory rather than confrontational on the issue of racial equality, Bethune persisted in seeking for all blacks, especially women, educational and economic opportunity. Through her work with national womens clubs and in the federal government, she tirelessly advocated the advancement of the black race. After death, Bethune was buried on the Bethune-Cookman campus. A statue commemorating her leadership was later dedicated in Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C.the first statue in honor of any woman or any black in a public park in the nations capital.

Selected writings

Newspaper columnist for Chicago Defender and Pittsburgh Courier and contributor to periodicals, including Ebony, Opportunity, and Journal of Negro History. Also contributor to book What the Negro Wants, edited by Rayford Logan, 1944.

Sources

Books

Greenfield, Eloise, Mary McLeod Bethune, Crowell, 1977.

Holt, Rackham, Mary McLeod Bethune: A Biography, Doubleday, 1964.

Meltzer, Milton, Mary McLeod Bethune: Voice of Black Hope, Viking Kestrel, 1987.

Peare, Catherine Owens, Mary McLeod Bethune, Vanguard, 1951.

Sterne, Emma Gelders, Mary McLeod Bethune, Knopf, 1957.

Periodicals

Ebony, December 1982; November 1985.

Journal of Negro History, January 1975.

Literary Digest, March 6, 1937.

Readers Digest, July 1941.

James J. Podesta

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Bethune, Mary Mcleod

BETHUNE, MARY MCLEOD


Mary McLeod Bethune (18751955) was an educator and activist who founded a college in Florida for African-American women. She promoted education for African Americans at the national level and served on many presidential committees. Involved in the women's movement, Bethune founded and led organizations that represented African-American women in the United States.

Mary McLeod Bethune was born on July 10, 1875, near Mayesville, South Carolina. She was the fifteenth of seventeen children born to former slaves. As a child, she worked in a cotton field, where she developed a strong work ethic and an appreciation for manual labor. Because of her strong desire to learn how to read and write, Bethune was allowed to attend the one-room schoolhouse in Mayesville. Her teacher recognized her talent for learning and recommended her for a scholarship to attend Scotia Seminary in Concord, North Carolina. Bethune graduated from the seminary in 1894 and then won a scholarship to the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

Bethune started her career as a teacher's assistant in 1896, at the same Mayesville school she had attended. Next she received an appointment from the Presbyterian Board of Education to teach at the Haines Normal and Industrial Institute in Augusta, Georgia. Under the direction of Lucy Craft Laney, Bethune learned a great deal about how to administer a girls' school with primary, grammar, normal, and industrial courses. In 1898 Bethune was transferred to the Kendell Institute in Sumpter, South Carolina, where she met her husband-to-be, Albertus Bethune. The couple married in May 1898, and Bethune gave birth to their son, Albertus McLeod Bethune, Jr., in February 1899.

While living with her new family in Savannah, Georgia, Bethune met Reverent C.J. Uggans, a Presbyterian minister from Palatka, Florida, who encouraged her to found a school in Palatka. Bethune took the opportunity and spent the next five years there. Not only did she start a community school, but she also worked in the jails, sawmills, and clubs teaching and doing missionary work. A few years later, she was encouraged by Reverend S.P. Pratt to move to Daytona and start a new school. In 1904 Bethune opened the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls. Bethune worked tirelessly at the school to develop its academic program and earn regional accreditation. In addition, because she had no assets with which to fund the school, Bethune spent a considerable amount of time soliciting contributions from both the African American and white communities. In 1923 Bethune's school merged with the Cookman Institute for Men, then in Jacksonville, and in 1929 the institution became known as the Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach. Bethune served as president of the college until 1947. The college awarded its first four-year degrees in teacher education in 1943.

Bethune was not only an educator, but also a leader and an activist. In 1924 she became the eighth president of the National Association of Colored Women's (NACW) clubs, and in that position she helped establish a national headquarters for the organization in Washington, D.C. In addition, Bethune also served on many presidential committees. In 1928 she attended President Calvin Coolidge's (19231929) Child Welfare Conference. During President Herbert Hoover's (19291933) administration she attended the National Commission for Child Welfare and served on the Hoover Commission on Home Building and Home Ownership. She was appointed to the Planning Committee of the Federal Office of Education of Negroes in 1933.

Aside from her work with the NACW, Bethune was active in other aspects of the women's movement during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1935 she founded the National Council of Negro Women in New York City, and remained president of that organization until 1949. Through the activities with the women's movement Bethune came to the attention of Eleanor Roosevelt (18841962), who invited her to attend a luncheon for leaders of the National Council of Women in the United States. Bethune was appointed administrator of the National Youth Administration (NYA) by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (19331945), a position she held from 1935 to 1944. During her tenure with the NYA, Bethune was instrumental in encouraging African Americans to join the Democratic Party, and she traveled around the country promoting Roosevelt's New Deal policies. In addition, Bethune founded the Federal Council on Negro Affairs, a group of prominent African American administrators in Washington during the Roosevelt administration who became known as the "black cabinet."

The NYA was abolished in 1943, and Bethune returned to Daytona Beach. She was, however, still involved in national affairs. Bethune lobbied the United States War Department in 1942 to commission black women officers in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). Two years later she became the national commander of the Women's Army for National Defense, an African American women's organization founded by Lovonia H. Brown. After World War II (19391945), Bethune became involved in international activities, traveling to Haiti, Liberia, and Switzerland.

Mary McLeod Bethune died of a heart attack on May 18, 1955. Her legacy lives on not only through the Bethune-Cookman College, but also through the Mary McLeod Bethune foundation. In addition, her home, "The Retreat," was made a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Services in 1975.

See also: Women's Movement


FURTHER READING

Bethune, Mary McLeod. Mary McLeod Bethune Papers: The Bethune-Cookman College Collection, 1922-1955. Bethesda, MD: University Publications of America, 1995.

Height, Dorothy I. "Remembering Mary McLeod Bethune." Essence, February 1994.

McCluskey, Audrey Thomas. "Multiple Consciousness in the Leadership of Mary McLeod Bethune." NWSA Journal, 6, Spring 1994.

Norment, Lynn. "10 Most Unforgettable Black Women." Ebony, February 1990.

Smith, Elaine M. "Mary McLeod Bethune's 'Last Will and Testament': A Legacy for Race Vindication." The Journal of Negro History, 81, Winter-Fall 1996.

we must gain full equality in education . . . in the franchise . . . in economic opportunity, and full equality in the abundance of life.

mary mcleod bethune, chicago defender, may 1954

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Bethune, Mary Mcleod

Mary Mc Leod Bethune

Born: July 10, 1875
Mayesville, South Carolina
Died: May 18, 1955
Daytona Beach, Florida

African American educator

Mary McLeod Bethune, an African American teacher, was one of the great educators in United States history. She was a leader of women, an adviser to several American presidents, and a powerful champion of equality among races.

Early life and education

Mary McLeod was born in Mayesville, South Carolina. Her parents, Samuel and Patsy McLeod, were former slaves, as were most of her brothers and sisters. (Mary was the fifteenth of seventeen children.) After her parents were freed, they saved up and bought a small farm of their own. Mary helped her parents on the family farm. When she was eleven years old, she entered a school established by a missionary from the Presbyterian Church. She walked five miles to and from school each day, then spent her evenings teaching everything she had learned to the rest of her family.

Later Mary received a scholarship to attend Scotia Seminary, a school for African American girls in Concord, North Carolina. She was strongly influenced by both white and black teachers there and met some of the people with whom she would work closely later. Although she was very serious about her studies, this did not prevent her from becoming a lively dancer and developing a lasting love of music. Dynamic and alert, she was very popular. Her classmates looked to her as a leader. After graduating in 1893 she attended the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois.

Career as an educator

After graduation from the Moody Bible Institute, Mary wished to become a missionary in Africa. However, she was told that African Americans were not allowed to take positions like that. She became an instructor at the Presbyterian Mission School in Mayesville in 1896 and later at Haines Institute in Augusta, Georgia, in 1896 and 1897. While she was working at Kindell Institute in Sumpter, South Carolina, in 1897 and 1898, she met Albertus Bethune, whom she later married and had a son with. Her devotion to the education of African American children caused problems with the marriage, however, and the couple eventually separated.

In 1904 the construction of the Florida East Coast Railroad brought hundreds of African Americans to the area looking for work. Bethune saw a need for education to improve the lives of these people. She began her career as an educator in earnest when she rented a two-story house in Daytona Beach, Florida, and began the difficult task of establishing a school for African American girls. Thus, in an era when most African American children received little or no education, the Daytona Literary and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls was begun in October 1904, with six pupils (five girls and her own son). There was no equipmentcrates were used for desks, charcoal took the place of pencils, and ink came from crushed berries.

At first Bethune did everything herselfteaching, administrative duties, handling the money, and keeping the school clean. She also searched garbage dumps for items that the school could restore and use, such as furniture and pieces of wood. Later she was able to secure a staff, many of whom worked loyally for her for many years. To help pay for expansion of the school, Bethune and her pupils baked pies and made ice cream to sell to nearby construction workers. In addition to her regular classes, Bethune organized classes for the children of turpentine workers. In these ways she satisfied her desire to serve as a missionary.

As the school at Daytona grew, it needed more money to run successfully. Bethune began to seek donations from anywhere she could. In 1912 she interested James M. Gamble of the Procter and Gamble Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, who contributed to the school and served as chairman of its board of trustees until his death. In 1923 Bethune's school for girls merged with Cookman Institute of Jacksonville, Florida, a school for boys. The new school became known as Bethune-Cookman Collegiate Institute, soon renamed Bethune-Cookman College. Bethune served as president of the college until her retirement in 1942. She remained a trustee of the college to the end of her life. By 1955 the college had a faculty (teachers and administrative staff) of one hundred and a student enrollment of over one thousand.

Other activities

Bethune's business activities were confined to the Central Life Insurance Company of Tampa, Florida, of which she was president for several years; the Afro-American Life Insurance Company of Jacksonville, which she served as director; and the Bethune-Volusia Beach Corporation, a recreation area and housing development she founded in 1940. In addition she wrote numerous magazine and newspaper articles and contributed chapters to several books. In 1932 she founded and organized the National Council of Negro Women and became its president. By 1955 the organization had a membership of eight hundred thousand.

Bethune also gained national recognition in 1936, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt (18821945) appointed her director of African American affairs in the National Youth Administration and a special adviser on minority affairs. She served for eight years and supervised the development of employment opportunities and recreational facilities for African American youth throughout the United States. She also served as special assistant to the secretary of war during World War II (193945). In the course of her government assignments she became a close friend of Eleanor Roosevelt (18841962). During her long career Bethune received many honorary (received without fulfilling the usual requirements) degrees and awards, including the Haitian Medal of Honor and Merit (1949), the highest award of the Haitian government. Mary McLeod Bethune died in Daytona Beach on May 18, 1955, of a heart attack. She was buried on the campus of Bethune-Cookman College.

For More Information

Halasa, Malu. Mary McLeod Bethune. New York: Chelsea House, 1989.

Poole, Bernice Anderson. Mary McLeod Bethune. Los Angeles: Melrose Square, 1994.

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Bethune, Mary Mcleod (1875–1955)

BETHUNE, MARY MCLEOD (18751955)


A leading African-American activist and educator, Mary McLeod Bethune was born in a log cabin near Mayesville, South Carolina. Bethune was the fifteenth of seventeen children born to Samuel and Patsy McLeod. Her parents and several of her older siblings had been born slaves, and the family was scattered as the children were sold to different owners. After the Civil War, the McLeods managed to reassemble their family and eventually bought five acres of land near Mayesville, where they made a living growing cotton and corn.

McLeod began working in the fields at an early age. She did not attend school because there were no schools for black children nearby. When Bethune was nine years old, however, the missionary board of the Presbyterian Church opened a one-room school for African-American children in Sumter County, about four miles from the family farm, and Bethune was invited to attend. She studied there for four years, and then won a scholarship to attend Scotia Seminary for girls (now Barber-Scotia College) in Concord, North Carolina, where she studied for the next five years. Wishing to become a missionary in Africa and supported by another scholarship, Bethune enrolled in 1894 in the Bible Institute for Home and Foreign Missions (now the Moody Bible Institute) in Chicago. After two years of training she applied to the Presbyterian Mission Board for a position in Africa, but was devastated to discover that the board would not send black missionaries to Africa.

Bethune returned to the South and taught for a brief time at her former elementary school in Sumter County. In 1897 she was appointed to a teaching post at Haines Normal and Industrial Institute in Augusta, Georgia. The school's founder was the pioneering black educator Lucy Craft Laney. Laney's determination, intelligence, and spirit of service greatly impressed Bethune and provided an early model for much of her later work as an educator and missionary. After one year at Haines, Bethune was transferred to the Kindell Institute in Sumter, South Carolina, where, in 1898, she met and married Albertus Bethune and moved with him to Savannah. Their son, Albert, was born the following year.

In 1899 Bethune moved with her husband and infant son to Palatka, Florida, where she established a Presbyterian mission school. The Bethunes remained in Palatka for five years, and then moved further south to Daytona Beach, where Mary felt that her services as a teacher and a missionary were greatly needed. In October 1904 she rented a small house for eleven dollars a month, made benches and desks out of discarded crates, obtained other supplies through charity and resourcefulness, and enrolled five young students in the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls. Bethune taught them reading, writing, and mathematics, along with religious, vocational, and home economics training.

The Daytona Institute struggled in the beginning, with Bethune selling baked goods and ice cream to raise funds. The school grew quickly, however, and within two years had more than two hundred students and a staff of five. In 1907 the institute was able to relocate to a larger, permanent facility, and in 1910 Bethune bought land to be used for agricultural instruction and the cultivation of food crops for the student cafeteria. Bethune was a talented and tireless fundraiser who solicited donations from individuals, churches, and clubs, and later from prominent business leaders and philanthropists. Over the next decade, the school expanded steadily: taking in more students, increasing its academic offerings, constructing more school buildings, and gradually gaining a national reputation. By 1922, Bethune's school had an enrollment of more than 300 girls and a faculty of 22. The Daytona Institute became coeducational in 1923 when it merged with the Cookman Institute in nearby Jacksonville. By 1929 it was known as Bethune-Cookman College, with Bethune herself serving as president until 1942. In 1941, Bethune-Cookman began awarding bachelor's degrees as a fully accredited college.

During her lengthy career as an educator and activist Bethune served in a variety of increasingly important positions. Notable among her many accomplishments was the founding in 1920 of the Southeastern Association of Colored Women and in 1935 of the National Council of Negro Women. She also served as president of the National Association of Colored Women from 1924 to 1928, took part in Calvin Coolidge's Child Welfare Conference in 1928, and participated in Herbert Hoover's 1930 White House Conference on Child Health. During the Great Depression, Bethune served as special adviser on minority affairs to Franklin D. Roosevelt, and she became the first African-American woman to head a federal agency when Roosevelt appointed her director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration in 1936, a position she held until 1943. During the 1940s, Bethune was also a member of the council that selected the first female officers for America's new Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. In 1945 Bethune served with W. E.B. Du Bois and Walter White as an adviser on interracial affairs during the charter conference of the United Nations.

Before she died, Bethune wrote a "Last Will and Testament" that was published posthumously in August, 1955, in Ebony. In her will, Bethune bequethed to subsequent generations her thirst for education, her sense of responsibility to young people, and her spirit of service.

See also: Higher Education in the United States, subentry on Historical Development; Multicultural Education.

bibliography

Bethune, Mary McLeod. 1999. Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a Better World, Essays and Selected Documents, ed. Audrey Thomas McCluskey and Elaine M. Smith. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Flemming, Sheila Y. 1995. Bethune-Cookman College, 19041994: The Answered Prayer to a Dream. Virginia Beach, VA: Donning.

Holt, Rackham. 1964. Mary McLeod Bethune: A Biography. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Judith J. Culligan

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Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955), an African American teacher, was one of the great educators of the United States. She was a leader of women, a distinguished adviser to several American presidents, and a powerful champion of racial equality.

Mary McLeod was born in Mayesville, S.C. Her parents, Samuel and Patsy McLeod, were former slaves; Mary was the fifteenth of 17 children. She helped her parents on the family farm and first entered a Presbyterian mission school when she was 11 years old. Later she attended Scotia Seminary, a school for African American girls in Concord, N.C., on a scholarship. She graduated in 1893; there she had met some of the people with whom she would work closely.

Though she had a serious turn of mind, it did not prevent her from being a lively dancer and developing a lasting fondness for music. Dynamic and alert, she was very popular and the acknowledged leader of her classmates. After graduating from Scotia Seminary, she attended the Moody Bible Institute.

Career as an Educator

After graduation from Moody Institute, she wished to become a missionary in Africa; however, she was unable to pursue this end. She was an instructor at the Presbyterian Mission School in Mayesville in 1896 and later an instructor at Haines Institute in Augusta, Ga., in 1896-1897. While she was an instructor at Kindell Institute in Sumpter, S.C., in 1897-1898, she met Albertus Bethune, whom she later married.

Bethune began her career as an educator in earnest when she rented a two-story frame building in Daytona Beach, Fla., and began the difficult task of establishing a school for African American girls. Her school opened in October 1904, with six pupils, five girls and her own son; there was no equipment; crates were used for desks and charcoal took the place of pencils; and ink came from crushed elderberries. Thus began the Daytona Literary and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls, in an era when most African American children received little or no education.

At first Bethune was teacher, administrator, comptroller, and custodian. Later she was able to secure a staff, many of whom worked loyally for many years. To finance and expand the school, Bethune and her pupils baked pies and made ice cream to sell to nearby construction gangs. In addition to her regular classes, Bethune organized classes for the children of turpentine workers. In these ways she satisfied her desire to serve as a missionary.

As the school at Daytona progressed, it became necessary to secure an adequate financial base. Bethune began to seek financial aid in earnest. In 1912 she interested James M. Gamble of the Proctor and Gamble Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, who contributed financially to the school and served as chairman of its board of trustees until his death.

In 1923 Bethune's school for girls merged with Cookman Institute of Jacksonville, Fla., a school for boys, and the new coeducational school became known as Bethune-Cookman Collegiate Institute, soon renamed Bethune-Cookman College. Bethune served as president of the college until her retirement as president emeritus in 1942. She remained a trustee of the college to the end of her life. By 1955 the college had a faculty of 100 and a student enrollment of over 1,000.

Other Activities

Bethune's business activities were confined to the Central Life Insurance Company of Tampa, Fla., of which she was president for several years; the Afro-American Life Insurance Company of Jacksonville, which she served as director; and the Bethune—Volusia Beach Corporation, a recreation area and housing development she founded in 1940. In addition, she wrote numerous magazine and newspaper articles and contributed chapters to several books. In 1932 she founded and organized the National Council of Negro Women and became its president; by 1955 this organization had a membership of 800,000.

Bethune gained national recognition in 1936, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her director of African American affairs in the National Youth Administration and a special adviser on minority affairs. She served for 8 years and supervised the expansion of employment opportunities and recreational facilities for African American youth throughout the United States. She also served as special assistant to the secretary of war during World War II. In the course of her government assignments she became a close friend of Eleanor Roosevelt. During her long career Bethune received many honorary degrees and awards, including the Haitian Medal of Honor and Merit (1949), the highest award of the Haitian government.

Bethune died in Daytona Beach on May 18, 1955, of a heart attack. She was buried on the campus of Bethune-Cookman College.

Further Reading

The best biography of Mrs. Bethune is Rackham Holt, Mary McLeod Bethune (1964). See also Catherine Owens Peare, Mary McLeod Bethune (1951), and Emma Gelders Sterne, Mary McLeod Bethune (1957). Edwin R. Embree, 13 Against the Odds (1944), includes a chapter on Mrs. Bethune. Shorter accounts of her are in Russell L. Adams, Great Negroes: Past and Present (1963; 3d ed. 1969), and in Walter Christmas, ed., Negroes in Public Affairs and Government, vol. 1 (1966). Background studies include John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans (1947; 3d rev. ed. 1967), and Bernard Sternsher, ed., The Negro in Depression and War: Prelude to Revolution, 1930-1945 (1969), which contains a selection by Bethune. □

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Bethune, Mary McLeod

Mary McLeod Bethune (bəthyōōn´), 1875–1955, American educator, b. Mayesville, S.C., grad. Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, 1895. The 17th child of former slaves, she taught (1895–1903) in a series of southern mission schools before settling in Florida to found (1904) the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls. From 1904 to 1942 and again from 1946 to 1947, she served as president of the institute, which, after merging with Cookman Institute (1923), became Bethune-Cookman College. A leader in the American black community, she founded the National Council of Negro Women (1935) and was director (1936–44) of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration. In addition, she served as special adviser on minority affairs to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. At the 1945 conference that organized the United Nations, she was a consultant on interracial understanding.

See biography by R. Holt (1964).

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