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Mary McLeod Bethune

Educator / Activist

Born: 10 July 1875
Died: 18 May 1955
Birthplace: Mayesville, South Carolina
Best known as: The founder of the National Council for Negro Women
Mary McLeod Bethune was an educator and school founder who served as an unofficial advisor on African-American issues to presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. Born to parents who had grown up as slaves, Mary was the only one of 17 children in her family to go to school. After attending bible college in Chicago, she dedicated herself to educating others. She worked in Georgia and South Carolina, then founded Florida's Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Girls in 1904. The school merged with the Cookman Institute for Men in 1923 and became Bethune-Cookman College, one of the few black colleges in the country. A firm believer in education as a path to racial equality, Bethune focused on vocational education and social activism and became a worldwide public figure. In 1935 she founded the National Council for Negro Women, and in 1936 she was appointed by President Roosevelt as the director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration, a post she held until 1943, when she returned to her school in Daytona Beach. She also served as a consultant to the United Nations, was honored in Haiti and Liberia and was a vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. One of the most famous black women leaders of her day, Bethune has been honored with a memorial in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C. (1974) and a U.S. postage stamp (1985).

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