Celebrating International Women's Day
The daughter of formerly enslaved people, Mary Jane McLeod Bethune became one of the most important black educators, civil and women’s rights leaders and government officials of the twentieth century. The college she founded set educational standards for today’s black colleges, and her role as an advisor to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave African Americans an advocate in government.
Born on July 10,
Bethune benefited from efforts to educate African Americans after the war, graduating in 1894 from the Scotia Seminary, a boarding school in North Carolina. Bethune next attended Dwight Moody’s Institute for Home and Foreign Missions in Chicago, Illinois. But with no church willing to sponsor her as a missionary, Bethune became an educator. While teaching in South Carolina, she married fellow teacher Albertus Bethune, with whom she had a son in 1899.
A champion of racial and gender equality, Bethune founded many organizations and led voter registration drives after women gained the vote in 1920, risking racist attacks. In 1924, she was elected president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, and in 1935, she became the founding president of the National Council of Negro Women.
Bethune also played a role in the transition of black voters from the Republican Party—“the party of Lincoln”—to the Democratic Party during the Great Depression. A friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1936, Bethune became the highest ranking African American woman in government when President Franklin Roosevelt named her director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration, where she remained until 1944. She was also a leader of FDR’s unofficial “black cabinet.”
In 1937 Bethune organized a conference on the Problems of the Negro and Negro
Additionally, Bethune was a businesswoman who co-owned a Daytona, Florida resort and co-founded the Central Life Insurance Company of Tampa. Honored with many awards, Bethune’s life was celebrated with a memorial statue in Washington DC in 1974, and a postage stamp in 1985. Her final residence is a National Historic Site.
**Mary McLeod Bethune is the first African-American commissioned by a state to be represented in National Statuary Hall. The statue is expected to be unveiled in the nation's
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About Bethune Cookman University:
Founded in 1904 by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) today sustains her legacy of faith, scholarship, and service through its relationship with the United Methodist Church and its commitment to academic excellence and civic engagement. B-CU offers 38 degrees on its main campus and online college. Located in Daytona Beach, B-CU is one of three private, historically black colleges in the state of Florida. The institution boasts a diverse and international faculty and student body of nearly 4,000. For more information, visit www.cookman.edu