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
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.
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.
Council House was Mary McLeod Bethune's last official Washington, DC
residence and the first headquarters of the National Council of Negro
Mary McLeod Bethune founded Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach,
Florida and served as an advisor on African American affairs to four
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
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
"I had no furniture. I begged dry
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: