Mary Jane McLeod (Bethune) was born on
July 10, 1875 in Mayesville, South Carolina on a Rice Farm. Her
parents were both former slaves and she was the 15th of 17 children.
At the Age of eleven, Mary began attending a school for African
American children run by the Presbyterian Church.
Mary was an excellent student and
worked very hard at mastering her studies. One of her teachers
recommended her for a scholarship at Scotia Seminary in North
Carolina. Mary's hard work there earned her another scholarship to The
Moody Bible Institute in Chicago where she was the only African
American in attendance. She graduated in 1895.
In 1898 she married Albertus Bethune
and they moved to Savannah, Georgia. Their first son, Albert was born
After graduation, Mary taught at
several southern mission schools until 1903. Mary was intensely
determined that African American girls should have the opportunities
for learning that she had enjoyed. She founded the Daytona
Normal and Industrial Institute for Girls in Daytona Beach, Florida to
help provide these opportunities. She was an instructor and the
headmaster of this school for over 19 years.
The school merged with the Cookman
Institute in 1923 becoming Bethune-Cookman College. Mary was the
president of the college until 1942. She also founded the
National Council for Negro Women in 1935 and directed the Division of
Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration until 1944. She was
the first African American Woman to become the head of a Federal
Mary was appointed as a special
assistant to the Secretary of War during World War II to help in the
selection of candidates for the Women's Army Corps. She also served as
a special advisor on minority affairs to President Roosevelt.
Mary worked closely with both President
and Mrs. Roosevelt and was a trusted advisor. In 1945 she assisted
Eleanor Roosevelt as a special consultant on interracial affairs at
the San Francisco Conference of the United Nations Organization.
When Mary first started her school in
Daytona Beach, Florida, the enrollment was 5 students. Today
Bethune-Cookman College has an enrollment of around 2000
Mary McLeod Bethune died on May 18,
1955 in Daytona Beach, Florida.