TwHP Lessons

The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House: African American Women Unite for Change

[Mary McLeod Bethune Council House]
(Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site.)


he soft velvet rug that carpets the staircase that leads to the office of the president has felt the tread of many feet—famous feet and humble feet; the feet of eager workers and the feet of those in need; and tired feet, like my own, these days. I walk through our headquarters, beautifully furnished by friends who caught our vision, free from debt! I walk through the lovely reception room where the great crystal chandelier reflects the colors of the international flags massed behind it—the flags of the world! I go into the paneled library with its conference table, around which so many great minds have met to work at the problems of the past years. I feel a sense of peace. Women united around The National Council of Negro Women, have made purposeful strides in the march toward democratic living. They have moved mountains. Our headquarters is symbolic of the direction of their going, and of the quality of their leadership in the world of today and tomorrow.1

Mary McLeod Bethune wrote these moving words upon her retirement as president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) in 1949. Bethune had founded the organization in 1935 to give African American women a collective national voice at a time when they were typically shunned or ignored. As NCNW grew and gained respect, Bethune spearheaded the effort to establish a national headquarters in Washington, D.C. When a red brick townhouse in the Logan Circle area became available, Bethune quickly moved to purchase it. As the first headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women, this house played a prominent role in advancing the causes of African American women around the country. From 1943 until 1966, it provided the setting for countless meetings in which NCNW members discussed pivotal national events such as the integration of the military and public schools. Here also they created and implemented programs to combat discrimination in housing, healthcare, and employment.

Bethune and the members of NCNW faced challenges of race and gender with a tireless spirit and determination. Bethune helped give a voice to African Americans and created an organization that continues to fulfill her vision more than 50 years after her death. Today the former headquarters is administered by the National Park Service as the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site.

1As quoted in Audrey Thomas McCluskey and Elaine M. Smith, eds., Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a Better World: Essays and Selected Documents (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999), 193.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. Logan Circle and surrounding area

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. Mary McLeod Bethune
 2. The National Council of Negro Women
 3. "Stepping Aside--at Seventy-four"
 4. The National Council of Negro Women:
 Beyond Bethune

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. The Council House today
 2. Mary McLeod Bethune at Council House
 dedication, 1944

 3. Eleanor Roosevelt at Council House
 dedication, 1944

 4. Council House, first floor plan
 5. Council House, second floor plan
 6. Council House parlor, 1945
 7. Council House parlor today
 8. NCNW meeting, ca. 1950

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. The National Council of Negro Women

 2. Taking a Stand
 3. Women in National Politics
 4. Honoring African Americans and Women
 in the Local Community

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Mary McLeod Bethune Council House

The lesson is based on the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site, one of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.



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