District of Columbia: Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site

group sits around wooden table in black and white
Mary McLeod Bethune (white-haired woman seated on right side of table) at the Council House.

NPS

Quick Facts

Location:
Washington, DC
Designation:
National Historic Site
OPEN TO PUBLIC:
Yes

By her own words and example, Mary McLeod Bethune demonstrated the value of education, a philosophy of universal love, and the wise and constituent use of political power in striving for racial and gender equality. The 15th of 17 children of former slaves, Mary was born July 10, 1875 in Maysville, South Carolina. She grew up amidst the poverty and oppression of the Reconstruction South, yet she rose to prominence as an educator, humanitarian, advisor to four presidents, and founder and first president of the Bethun-Cookman College, now Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida.

In 1935, the same year President Franklin D. Roosevelt brought her to Washington, DC as a special advisor on minority affairs; Mrs. Bethune founded and became the president of the National Council of Negro Women, Inc. (NCNW). Mrs. Bethune possessed skills well-suited for a liaison including superb oratory skills and a humanitarian soul for which ‘she gave out faith and hope as if they were pills and she some sort of doctor.’

In 1943, she purchased a Victorian townhouse which became the first headquarters of the NCNW. The headquarters also served as her Washington, DC residence from 1943 to 1949. Mrs. Bethune worked tirelessly to influence legislation affecting African Americans and women and continued to be an important voice in civil rights until her death in 1955 at 79 years old.

The townhouse was designated a National Historic Site by Congress in 1982. The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site became a unit of the National Park System in 1995, and in October 2019 became part of the African American Civil Rights Network.

The African American Civil Rights Network (AACRN) recognizes the civil rights movement in the United States and the sacrifices made by those who fought against discrimination and segregation. Created by the African American Civil Rights Act of 2017, and coordinated by the National Park Service, the Network tells the stories of the people, places, and events of the modern U.S. civil rights movement from 1939 -1968 through a collection of public and private elements.

Last updated: September 16, 2019