An activist a day: Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955)

Educator and civil and women’s rights activist. Born July 10, 1875 in Mayesville, South Carolina. A child of former slaves, she began her life picking cotton, but a scholarship to Scotia Seminary in North Carolina in 1888 launched her long and distinguished career as educator and activist.

Believing that education provided the key to racial advancement, she founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute, Florida (1904), which through her persistent direction as president (1904–42) became Bethune-Cookman College (1929). An activist, she mobilized thousands of black women as leader and founder of the National Association of Colored Women and the National Council of Negro Women.

A national figure, she served in the Roosevelt administration as adviser to the president on minority affairs and director of the Division of Negro Affairs within the National Youth Administration (1936–44). Through her efforts to promote full citizenship rights for all African-Americans and her feminist perspective, she came to symbolize the dual role black women played as activists for the rights of blacks and women.

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