Mary McLeod Bethune achieved her greatest national and international recognition at the Washington, DC townhouse at 1318 Vermont Avenue, NW, that is now this Historic Site. It was the first headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) as well as her last home in Washington, DC. From here, Bethune and the Council spearheaded strategies and developed programs that advanced the interests of African American women and the Black community.
Mary McLeod Bethune was the 15th of 17 children of former slaves. She grew up amidst the poverty and oppression of the Reconstruction South, yet rose to prominence as an educator, presidential advisor, and political activist. Her life 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. 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 founded the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) in 1935. The NCNW mission is to lead, develop, and advocate for women of African descent as they support their families and communities. Mary McLeod Bethune also 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.