• Council House Front Door

    Mary McLeod Bethune Council House

    National Historic Site DC

Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955)

 

By her own words and example, Mary McLeod Bethune demonstrated the value of education, a philosophy of universal love, and the wise and consistent use of political power in striving for racial and gender equality. The 15th of 17 children of former slaves, Bethune grew up amidst poverty and oppression of the Reconstruction South, yet rose to prominence as an educator, presidential advisor, and political activist. Through her own schooling by missionaries in South Carolina, Bethune recognized the importance of education in the emerging struggle for civil rights. In 1904 she founded the Daytona Educational and Industrial School for Negro Girls in Daytona Beach, Florida, which later merged with the Cookman Institute to become Bethune-Cookman College. In 2007, the school became Bethune-Cookman University. Mary McLeod Bethune worked tirelessly to influence legislation affecting African Americans and women and continued to be an important voice for human rights until her death in 1955 at the age of 79.

 

Birth: July 10, 1875 (Mayesville, South Carolina)
Death: May 18, 1955 (Daytona Beach, Florida)
Parents: Samuel McLeod, Patsy (McIntosh) McLeod

 

Education:

  • Presbyterian Mission School, Mayesville, South Carolina, 1882-1886
  • Scotia Seminary, Concord, North Carolina - graduated 1893
  • Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, Illinois, 1893-1895
 

Family:
Married Albertus Bethune in 1898.

They had one son, Albert McLeod Bethune, Sr.

He had five children:

  • Albert McLeod Bethune, Jr.
  • Dr. Evelyn McLeod Bethune
  • Hobson McLeod Bethune, Sr. (Mstr. Gny. Sgt. ret. U.S. Marine Corps)
  • Robert McLeod Bethune
  • Sara C. Bethune

These grandchildren have given her 17 great-grandchildren and 8 great-great grandchildren (as of 2007).

Teaching Experience:
Haines Institute, Augusta, Georgia, 1895-1896
Kindell Institute, Sumter, South Carolina, 1897-1898
Palatka Mission School, Palatka, Florida, 1899-1903
Founder - Daytona Normal and Industrial School for Negro Girls (Bethune-Cookman College, Daytona Beach, Florida), 1904
President - Bethune-Cookman College, 1904-1942

Honorary Degrees:
M.S. South Carolina State College, 1910
A.M. Wilberforce University, 1915
LL.D. Lincoln University (Pennsylvania), 1935
Doctor of Humanities, Bennett College, 1936
M.D. Tuskegee Institute, 1937
LL.D. Howard University, 1942
LL.D. Atlanta University, 1943
LL.D. Wiley College, 1943
Doctor of Humanities, West Virginia State College, 1947
Doctor of Humanities, Rollins College, 1949
Doctor of Humanities, Benedict College, 1950

Awards:
(Too numerous to be listed). Among them:
Spingarn Medal (NAACP), 1935
Frances A. Drexel Award (Xavier University), 1937
First Annual Youth's City Award (Daytona Beach), 1941
Thomas Jefferson Award (SCHW), 1942
Medal of Honor and Merit (Haiti), 1949
Star of Africa (Liberia), 1952
Dorie Miller Award, 1954

Government Service:
National Child Welfare Commission (Appointed by President Calvin Coolidge & President Herbert Hoover)
Commission on Home Building and Home Ownership (Appointed by President Herbert Hoover)
Special Advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt on Minority Affairs, 1935-1944
Director, Division of Negro Affairs, National Youth Administration, 1936-1944
Housing Board, Daytona Beach, Florida, 1938-
Special Assistant to the Secretary of War for the selection of candidates for Officer Training School for WAACS, 1942
Committee of Twelve for National Defense (Appointed by President Harry Truman), 1951
Official Delegate to the second inauguration of William V.S. Tubman as President of Liberia (Appointed by President Harry Truman), 1952

War Service:
Director, Florida Chapter American Red Cross
Member of Board of Directors, American Women's Volunteer Services
General, Women's Army for the National Defense
Toured General Hospitals of First, Second, and Third Service Commands advising on rehabilitation of veterans, 1944

Affiliations:
Educational Organizations:
Florida State Teachers Organization (President)
American Teachers Association (President)
Board of Education, Methodist Church
National Commission on Christian Education, Association of American Colleges
Association for the Study of Negro Life and History
American Council on African Education Advisory Board
International Longfellow Society (Honorary President)
National Committee on Atomic Education Executive Board

Women's Organizations:
National Association of Colored Women (President)
Florida State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs (President)
National Council of Women of the U.S.A. (Honorary Vice-President)
National Council of Negro Women (Founder & President)

Race Relations and Political Action Organizations:
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (Vice-President & Consultant to the conference to draft United Nations Charter, 1945)
National Urban League (Vice-President)
Commission on Interracial Cooperation (Vice-President)
Southern Conference for Human Welfare (Vice-President & Board of Representatives)
Southern Conference Educational Fund (Board of Directors)
League of Women Voters
Americans for Democratic Action

National Associations:
Good Neighbor Association of Daytona Beach, Florida

Religious Organizations:
General Conference of Methodist Church (Member 1923-1955)
Council of Church Women Executive Board
American Mothers Committee on Golden Rule Volunteers Board of Directors
Hadassah (Honorary Member)

Civic and Social Service Organizations:
Delinquent Home for Colored Girls, Ocala, Florida (Founder)
Social Service Commission of Methodist Church
Committee of Friends of the Atlanta School of Social Work
National Sharecroppers Fund Board
Planned Parenthood Federation of America (Sponsor)
Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. (Honorary Member of Board)
American Committee for Yugoslav Relief, Harlem Division Executive Committee (Honorary Chairman)

Businesses:
Afro-American Life Insurance Company, Inc. (Director)
Central Life Insurance Company, Inc. (President)
Bethune-Volusia Beach, Inc. (Founder & President)

Clubs and Sororities:

  • Cuban Society of Letters
  • Daughters of Elks
  • Delta Sigma Theta Sorority
  • Iota Phi Lambda Sorority
  • Lambda Kappa Mu Sorority
 

Writings:

  • What the Negro Wants, edited by Rayford Logan (one chapter)
  • Spiritual Autobiographies, edited by Dr. Louis Finkelstein (one chapter)
  • Weekly Column in the Chicago Defender and the Pittsburgh Courier
  • Articles in publications of the National Council of Negro Women, The Aframerican Woman's Journal and Women United

Travel:

  • Cook's Tour of Europe, 1927
  • Bermuda, 1932
  • Throughout the U.S. with the National Youth Administration, 1936-1944
  • Haiti, 1949
  • Liberia, 1952
  • Switzerland, 1954
 

Hobbies:

  • Collecting photographs for a gallery of outstanding men and women
  • Collecting walking canes of famous men
  • Collecting miniature elephants

Did You Know?

Mary McLeod Bethune wearing the Commander of the Order of the Star of Africa medal.

In 1949, President Harry S Truman appointed Mary McLeod Bethune as a United States Representative to the second inauguration of President William V. S. Tubman of Liberia, West Africa. She was awarded Liberia's most prestigious award, the Commander of the Order of the Star of Africa.