Mary McLeod Bethune was born to two former slaves in 1875. One of 17 children. Bethune was the only one attending school in the family, teaching her entire family what she learned every day after school. This sparked her interest in expanding education to black Americans. After a year under Lucy Craft Laney, at Haines Normal and Industrial Institute, before moving to Dayton, Florida to start the Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in 1904. The school curriculum was rigorous, starting at 5:30 am and ending at 9:00 pm. The curriculum included basic life skills, theology, High school-level math and reading, and foreign language. Bethune remained President of the Institution till 1942, by this point achieving full college status. She also made the school’s library available to everyone, including black Americans, the first in Florida.
She did not stop at education in Dayton. As it was the early 1900s, the south was still segregated and left Dayton with no hospital for black Americans in Dayton. Bethune started a hospital for black Americans and white Americans in 1911. This hospital was vital for helping the residents of Dayton after numerous disasters like the H1N1 outbreak of 1918.
The Black Cabinet
Bethune started the National Council of Negro Women, a nonprofit designed to improve opportunities and the quality of life of black women. Arguably the biggest position she ever held was in the “Black Cabinet.” The Black Cabinet was an unofficial group of black Americans who were public policy advisors to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Bethune coined the name and was the only woman in the cabinet. Bethune was eventually named director of the Negro Division of the National Youth Administration, making her the first black head of a federal agency. A agency designed to improve education in the youth after the Great Depression.
She met & became quick friends with Eleanor Roosevelt in 1927, bonding over their interest in education, after all of the other white guests refused to sit next to Bethune. Both were chosen as delegates for the San Francisco conference that gave birth to the United Nations organization. Bethune was the only black person there. Where they both lobbied for Human Rights Charter. The two embarked on Civil Rights advocacy for the rest of their respective lives.
Bethune died at 79, after a lifetime of dedication to improving the lives of black Americans. She worked to answer the needs of her community. Which led her to change federal laws with her advocacy. Mary McLeod Bethune is an inspiration to everyone to find their passion and improve the lives of everyone.