Mary Bethune Academy for Children - A History of Mary Bethune

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"Invest in the human soul. Who knows,
it may be a diamond in the rough."
                        Mary McLeod Bethune
                                    1875 - 1955

Florida Department of State 
Bureau of Archives & Records Management 
Image Number : PR00793 Florida Department of State 
Bureau of Archives & Records Management 
Image Number : PR00755

Born July 10, 1875      Mary Jane McLeod
Died May 18, 1955     Mary McLeod Bethune

Her Last Will & Testament

The parents of Mary Jane McLeod
Samuel and Patsy McIntosh McLeod

The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site commemorates the life of Mary McLeod Bethune and the organization she founded, the National Council of Negro Women.

1318 Vermont Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20005
Phone:(202) 673-2402
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Tours are available for both individuals and groups of all ages. Visitors to the Bethune Council House will see original furnishings and historic photographs depicting the Council House during the 1940's when it was Mary McLeod Bethune's Washington, DC residence and the headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women.

The Bethune Council House is maintained by the National Park Service and is now the location of the National Archives for Black Women's History which houses the largest manuscript collection of materials solely dedicated to African American women and their organizations.

The Bethune Council House was Mary McLeod Bethune's last official Washington, DC residence and the first headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women.

Mary McLeod Bethune founded Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida and served as an advisor on African American affairs to four presidents.

She was appointed Director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration by President Roosevelt.

She was the first African American woman to hold so high an office in the federal government.

The site features the three story Victorian town house which was her home when she was in Washington, DC and housed the offices of the National Council of Negro Women and a carriage house in which the National Archives for Black Women's History is located.
Above text from Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site (National Park Service website)


The Beginning in Mayesville, SC

From humble beginnings, this was the birthplace of Mary Jane McLeod.      She was born in South Carolina, the fifteenth of seventeen children. Scholarships enabled her to attend Scotia Seminary and Moody Bible Institute. Turned down when she applied to go to Africa as a missionary, she returned to the South. She met and married Albertus Bethune, and began to teach school.

In Daytona, Florida, in 1904 she scraped together $1.50 to begin a school with just five pupils. She called it the Daytona Literary and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls. A gifted teacher and leader, Mrs. Bethune ran her school with a combination of unshakable faith and remarkable organizational skills. She was a brilliant speaker and an astute fund raiser. She expanded the school to a high school, then a junior college, and finally it became Bethune-Cookman College.

"I had no furniture. I begged dry goods boxes
and made benches and stools; begged a
basin and other things I needed and in 1904
five little girls here started school."

              - Mary McLeod Bethune


Continuing to direct the school, she turned her attention to the national scene, where she became a forceful and inspiring representative of her people. First through the National Council of Negro Women, then within Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal in the National Youth Administration, she worked to attack discrimination and increase opportunities for Blacks. Behind the scenes as a member of the "Black cabinet," and in hundreds of public appearances, she strove to improve the status of her people.






Eleanor Roosevelt visits with Mary McLeod Bethune (above & below)














Mary McLeod Bethune awarded citation from Harry S. Truman
L-R: Harry S. Truman; Mary McLeod Bethune; Madame Vijaya Pandit, India's ambassador; and Dr. Ralph Bunche of the UN. All are recipients of the citation for outstanding citizenship from the President. 


African-American educator, civil and women's rights activist, adviser to United States presidents, government official and humanitarian who devoted her life to the improvement of educational opportunities for African-Americans. Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune probably ranks as the most influential African-American woman in U. S. history. It was she who helped to initiate the black pride movement in America. "Look at me," she often said. "I am black. I am beautiful."

Mary Jane McLeod Bethune, the fifteenth child of seventeen children of former slaves Samuel and Patsy (McIntosh) McLeod was born near Mayesville, South Carolina on July 10, 1875.

Her determination and drive were evident from an early age. Through her parents' help and encouragement, McLeod acquired a good education. She attended the local Trinity Presbyterian Mission School; Scotia Seminary (now Barber-Scotia College) in Concord, N.C.; and, in preparation to become an African missionary, the Bible Institute for Home and Foreign Missions (later Moody Bible Institute) in Chicago, Illinois. Howerever, after graduating from the institute in 1895, McLeod was extremely disappointed to learn that the Presbyterian Mission Board would not assign a African-American to Africa.

She then turned to teaching, teaching at a number of schools soon coming to see the education of black students as the most important factor in improving the lives of African-Americans. During this time she married Albertus Bethune who died in 1918 and they had one child. Bethune wanted to provide even more opportunities for African-American girls, and in 1904 founded the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School (now Bethune-Cookman College) in Florida with little more than her faith in God, five young pupils, and $1.50.

After a rocky start and her persistent direction as president (1904-1942) the school became a success, and expanded to a 32-acre campus with 14 buildings and 400 students. Bethune also played an important role in the fight for African-American suffrage. After the 19th Amendment passed in 1920, she provided money to pay the poll tax, taught a hundred potential African- American voters to read, and defied the KKK by leading them to the polls to vote.

Over the next two decades Bethune's efforts to build her school brought her to national attention. She was in demand as a speaker, and she began to play a greater role in the public sector. She served on numerous organizations, including the National Association of teachers in Colored schools (as president), the Interracial Council of America, and the National Council of Negro Women, which she founded in 1935 in New York City and served as president for fourteen years.

Bethune also advised a number of United States presidents and, as Director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration (1936-1944), becoming the first African-American woman to head a federal agency. She was the sole woman among President Franklin D. Roosevelt's  African-American advisors, a group referred to as the "Black Cabinet."

Bethune was also one of three African-American consultants to the U.S. delegation involved in developing the United Nations charter. Throughout her life Bethune received numerous awards, including the NAACP's prestigious Spingarn Medal (1935), the Frances Drexel Award for Distinguished Service (1937), and the Thomas Jefferson (SEE ALSO) Award for leadership (1942).

Throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s Bethune continued to advise Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower on matters affecting race relations. In her later years Bethune established the Mary Mcleod Bethune Foundation and promoted Frank Buchman's Moral Re-Armament, and international movement to unite people behind a set of absolute values. She also traveled widely and received recognition in other countries. In 1949 Haiti presented Bethune with its Medal of Honor and Merit, and in 1952 Liberia gave her its Star of Africa award.

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune died at her home in Daytona Beach, Florida on May 18, 1955 having become the nation's preeminent symbol of black dignity and achievement. Bethune was laid to rest in a simple gravesite behind her home at Bethune-Cookman College so friends and colleagues who visit the campus could visit her as well. Thirty years later in 1985,

Bethune was recognized as one of the most influential African-American woman in the country with a postage stamp issued in her honor and she is the first woman and first African-American to be honored with a statue in a public park in Washington, D.C. 
(excerpts from a bio by: Curtis Jackson)









17 foot bronze statue of
Mary McLeod Bethune
in Lincoln Park, Washington D.C.


The Early Days

Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute group photograph

Mary McLeod Bethune with a line of girls from the school

Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute during meal preparation

Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute doing laundry

Cooking class, Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls

Dr. Mary Bethune in front of White Hall on the campus of Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida

Some of the statements of Mary Bethune that have lived on as memorable quotes that reflect her life and her work.

"Invest in a human soul... it might be diamond in the rough."
        - Mary McLeod Bethune

"Without faith, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible. Faith in God is the greatest power, but great faith, too, is faith in oneself."
        - Mary McLeod Bethune

"No matter how deep my hurt, I always smiled. I refused to be discouraged, for neither God nor man can use a discouraged person."
        - Mary McLeod Bethune

"Nothing was too menial or too hard for me to find joy in doing, for the appreciation of having a chance."
        - Mary McLeod Bethune

"I made my learning, what little it was, ... spell service and cooperation, rather than something that would put me above the people around me."
        - Mary McLeod Bethune

"Studying goes deeper than mere reading. There are surface nuggets to be gathered but the best of the gold is underneath, and it takes time and labor to secure it."
        - Mary McLeod Bethune

"I'm poor and I'm ugly and I'm not very smart. But the Lord has chosen me for an instument."
        - Mary McLeod Bethune

Bethune Nursery School, Inc.
T/A Mary Bethune Academy for Children
2249 Halifax Street
Phone 434-847-4221   Fax 434-847-0441
Lynchburg, Virginia 24501

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