Mary Jane McLeod Bethune (born Mary Jane McLeod; July 10, 1875 – May 18, 1955) was an American educator, stateswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian and civil rights activist best known for starting a private school for African-American students in Daytona Beach, Florida. She attracted donations of time and money, and developed the academic school as a college. It later continued to develop as Bethune-Cookman University. She also was appointed as a national adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of what was known as his Black Cabinet. She was known as "The First Lady of The Struggle" because of her commitment to gain better lives for African Americans.
Born in Mayesville, South Carolina, to parents who had been slaves, she started working in fields with her family at age five. She took an early interest in becoming educated; with the help of benefactors, Bethune attended college hoping to become a missionary in Africa. She started a school for African-American girls in Daytona Beach, Florida. It later merged with a private institute for African-American boys, and was known as the Bethune-Cookman School. Bethune maintained high standards and promoted the school with tourists and donors, to demonstrate what educated African Americans could do. She was president of the college from 1923 to 1942, and 1946 to 1947. She was one of the few women in the world to serve as a college president at that time.
Bethune was also active in women's clubs, which were strong civic organizations supporting welfare and other needs, and became a national leader. After working on the presidential campaign for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, she was invited as a member of his Black Cabinet. She advised him on concerns of black people and helped share Roosevelt's message and achievements with blacks, who had historically been Republican voters since the Civil War. At the time, blacks had been largely disenfranchised in the South since the turn of the century, so she was speaking to black voters across the North. Upon her death, columnist Louis E. Martin said, "She gave out faith and hope as if they were pills and she some sort of doctor."
Honors include designation of her home in Daytona Beach as a National Historic Landmark, her house in Washington, D.C. as a National Historic Site, and the installation of a memorial sculpture of her in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C.
The historic Daytona Beach home of Mary McLeod Bethune was built around 1904-05 and was purchased for Mrs. Bethune in 1913. She lived in the home until her passing in 1955. Mrs. Bethune's home received the designation of National Historic Landmark by the United States Secretary of Interior on December 2, 1974.
The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site preserves the house of Mary McLeod Bethune, located in Northwest Washington, D.C., at 1318 Vermont Avenue NW. National Park Service rangers offer tours of the home, and a video about Bethune's life is shown.
Bethune made her home in the townhouse from 1943 to 1955. She purchased it for $15,500. Bethune lived on the third floor, while the National Council of Negro Women occupied the first and second floors.
The Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial is a bronze statue honoring Mary McLeod Bethune, by Robert Berks. The monument is the first statue erected on public land in Washington, D.C. to honor an African American and a woman. The statue features an elderly Mrs. Bethune handing a copy of her legacy to two young black children. Mrs. Bethune is supporting herself by a cane given to her by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The statue was unveiled on the anniversary of her 99th birthday, July 10, 1974, before a crowd of over 18,000 people. The funds for the monument were raised by the National Council of Negro Women, the organization Mrs. Bethune founded in 1935. It is located in Lincoln Park, at East Capitol Street and 12th Street N.E. Washington, D.C.
Historical Educator, Madelyn M. Sanders, is a member of Women In History; a group that educates through the dramatic representation of notable women in U.S. history. Her characterization of Mary McLeod Bethune is her favorite. Ms. Sanders notes, “What better way to educate children and adults on the accomplishments of our female ancestors, than through first person characterizations? There is a special pride I feel each time I portray one of these outstanding historical figures.”
Mary McLeod Bethune as Portrayed by Madelyn Sanders
Mary McLeod Bethune Song
Part of the Court.rchp.com 2017 Black History Month Series