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Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod BethuneAKA Mary Jane McLeod

Born: 10-Jul-1875
Birthplace: Mayesville, SC
Died: 18-May-1955
Location of death: Daytona Beach, FL
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Remains: Buried, Bethune-Cookman College, Daytona Beach, FL

Gender: Female
Religion: Methodist
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Educator, Activist
Party Affiliation: Democratic

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Black activist and educator

Mary McLeod Bethune was born in a South Carolina log cabin, the daughter of slaves, and became one of the most prominent black leaders of her time. She was active in campaigns to stop lynching in the American South, and worked to end segregationist policies of the American Red Cross, the National Council of Women, the Methodist Episcopal Church, and the United States government. Not merely opposing the racially-discriminatory poll tax, she led a nationwide fundraising drive that paid the tax for thousands of black voters.

She grew up working in the cotton fields, and as a young woman her goal was to become a Christian missionary to Africa. After attending the Bible Institute for Home and Foreign Missions (now Moody Bible Institute), she learned that the Presbyterian Mission Board would not consider sending an African-American woman to Africa. She instead worked for several years as a teacher at all-black schools in the South, supplementing her meager income by selling life insurance. In 1904, with no funding and five students, she opened the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls, in Daytona Beach, Florida. In the 1920s she secured the school's financial footing by affiliating it with the Methodist Episcopal Church, and in 1923 she oversaw the school's merger with Cookman Institute for Men, leading to its present identity as Bethune-Cookman University.

She was nominally an advisor to Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover on child welfare matters, but as a friend of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt she was much more involved in the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. She was appointed by Roosevelt as Director of the National Youth Administration's Division of Negro Affairs in 1936, making her the highest-ranking black woman in American government up to that time. She was a key advocate for establishment of the Federal Committee on Fair Employment Practice, the first federal agency dedicated to eliminating discriminatory employment practices (founded in 1941, and eliminated by Congress in 1946). As a representative of the NAACP, she was the only black woman to attend the 1946 conference in San Francisco that founded the United Nations. Her tombstone on the campus of Bethune-Cookman University is engraved, "She has given her best that others may live a more abundant life."

Father: Samuel McLeod (slave)
Mother: Patsy McIntosh McLeod (slave)
Husband: Albertus Bethune (clothes salesman, m. May-1898, abandoned family 1906, d. 1918)
Son: Albert Bethune (b. 1899)

    High School: Barber-Scotia College, Concord, NC (1893)
    University: Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, IL (1895)
    Administrator: Bethune-Cookman University (Founder and President, 1904-42, 1946-47)

    American Red Cross
    National Association of Colored Women President (1924)
    National Council of Women
    National Council of Negro Women Founder and President (1935-49)
    Association for the Study of African American Life and History President (1936-51)
    National Youth Administration Director of Negro Affairs (1936-44)
    Spingarn Medal 1935
    Frances Drexel Award for Distinguished Service 1937
    NAACP Vice President (1940-55)
    Heart Attack 18-May-1955 (fatal)
    National Women's Hall of Fame 1973

Appears on postage stamps:
USA, Scott #2137 (22, issued 5-Mar-1985)


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