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DR. MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE


"The drums of Africa still beat in my heart. They will not let me rest while there is a single Negro boy or girl without a chance to prove his worth."

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune



About Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune


One of America’s most inspirational daughters, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was an educator, national civil rights pioneer & activist, champion of African-American women’s rights, advisor to Presidents of the United States and one of the most influential women of the twentieth century.

Dr. Bethune was the daughter of former slaves, but she used the power of education, political activism, and civil service to achieve racial and gender equality throughout the United States and the world. Born Mary Jane McLeod on July 10, 1875 in Mayesville, South Carolina, she had the unusual opportunity to attend school and receive an education not common among African Americans following the Civil War. Most of her schooling prepared her for missionary work abroad, though she would never serve. Instead, she taught at schools in Georgia and South Carolina.


On October 3, 1904, she started her school for negro girls in Daytona Beach, FL with $1.50, 5 little girls and faith in God. That school is now Bethune-Cookman University.


When Dr. Bethune first opened the school, she did not have supplies or classroom materials for her students but she was innovative. She went to the city dump to find old furniture and wood pieces to re-use and upcycle for desks and seating. Items that could not be repurposed was burned and the products remaining were used as chalk. Additionally, she instructed her son and students to collect elderberries so that they could make ink for their writing purposes.


Early on, Dr. Bethune taught her students homemaking (i.e. baking, sewing, etc) skills as well as agriculture and farming. Her entrepreneurship skills kept the school afloat as she taught her students to bake and sell sweet potato pies and fresh eggs from the campus farm to railroad workers. As donors helped to add towards her vision of expanding her school, she was able to offer more advanced industrial-based offerings.


Once her all female school merged with the all male school called the Cookman Institute (in Jacksonville, FL), she was able to create Bethune-Cookman College and earned junior college status. As a junior college, she was able to offer programs in education, business and the industrial arts; wherein, students earned credentials to become stenographers for telegraph companies, carpenters, seamstresses/tailors and teachers.


Eventually, she opened the only Black owned hospital in the area on her campus and held nursing training sessions there. Because of these opportunites available for students, she was able to offer training to supporters and veterans of World War II and beyond. Dr. Bethune's national and global influence as an advisor to five U.S. presidents, the first African American with an appointment to run a federal agency (NYA) and the only African American to help write the Charter for the United Nations (UN), positioned her to assist by ensuring funding for the formation of the Tuskegee Airmen and the integration of the American Red Cross and Army Corps for Women.


In 1935, Dr. Bethune founded the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) which still exists today " to lead, advocate for, and empower women of African descent, their families and communities (www.ncnw.com)."


In 1953 Dr. Bethune established the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation as a nonprofit corporation to promote her social and educational ideals. Undaunted, she continued to champion democratic values and faith in the American creed until she died at her home as the result of a heart attack on May 18, 1955 at the age of 79.


This year, a beautifully crafted marble statue of Dr. Bethune will be installed into the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall collection as the first African American to represent a state (Florida) there. Her likeness is the first replacement in 100 years for the state of Florida, and she will replace the statue of Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith (installed in 1922).


 

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was nominated by Dr. Connie Rivers Mitchell, STEM Educator & Advocate (riversedgeteam@gmail.com):


Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was a STEM educator before the acronym was ever curated. Her philosophy for educating youth and young adults entailed using the head, heart and hands to identify strategies using collaborative efforts to critically think through problems to find impactful and effective solutions to better serve African American communities-at-large.

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