On October 3, 1904, African-American educator and activist Mary McLeod Bethune founded a normal and industrial school for African-American girls in Daytona Beach, Florida. Although she began with only five students in a small rented house, in less than two years Bethune attracted 250 pupils and founded the Daytona School for Girls in a building she erected on top of a garbage dump. By 1916 the school had grown into the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute and was affiliated with the United Methodist Church. After absorbing the Cookman Institute for Boys, previously located in Jacksonville, the school, newly christened Bethune-Cookman College, was established as a high school with junior college courses in 1924.
Bethune, who continued as president of the college until 1947, raised funds for the school from middle-class blacks and liberal white philanthropists. Committed to integration and interracial cooperation, Bethune sought out a mixed-race board of directors, but she opposed white directors who favored a vocational curriculum. Bethune pushed for the inclusion of a full liberal arts program, and the school continuously upgraded its standards and facilities. Despite a heavy financial squeeze during the Great Depression, Bethune-Cookman became a two-year junior college in 1939 and a four-year institution shortly after, receiving a Grade A accreditation in 1947, the last year of Bethune's presidency. In 2005 Bethune-Cookman, the only historically black college founded by a woman, had a student body of approximately 2800 and had thirty-five buildings on more than seventy acres. The college offered degree programs in 39 major fields of study, including subject areas as diverse as biology, business, and communications.
Bethune, Mary McLeod. "A College on a Garbage Dump." In Black Women in White America: A Documentary History, edited by Gerda Lerner, pp. 134–143. New York: Pantheon, 1972.
Flemming, Sheila Y. Bethune-Cookman College, 1904–1994: The Answered Prayer to a Dream. Virginia Beach, Va: Donning, 1995.
Hamilton, Kendra. "Keepers of the Dream: As Bethune-Cookman College Celebrates 100 Years, School Officials, Alumni Say Mission Has Not Changed." Black Issues in Higher Education 21, No. 20 (November 18, 2004): 12–13.
margaret d. jacobs (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005
Bethune-Cookman College, at Daytona Beach, Fla.; United Methodist; coeducational. Named for its founder and first president, Mary McCleod Bethune, the school was formed as a result of a merger (1923) of the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Girls (founded 1904) and the Cookman Institute (founded 1872). It became a four-year college in 1941. Founded primarily for African Americans, it is open to all qualified students.