White House Dream Team: Mary Jane McLeod Bethune

Drawing of Mary Jane McLeod Bethune Mary Jane McLeod Bethune

Born in South Carolina as the child of former slaves, Mary learned the value of hard work and dedication. Her parents instilled in her the belief that education is a gateway to success. A young woman of strong faith, she received a scholarship to North Carolina's Scotia Seminary, which was devoted to the education of African-American women. After graduating in 1894, she pursued her dreams at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois.

Shortly after returning to the South in 1896, Mary began her career as a teacher. She opened the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute in 1904 in Florida, where she served as the school's president for nearly 40 years. Mary was determined to provide educational opportunities for African-American students. Under her leadership, the school merged with the Cookman Institute for men in 1923 and witnessed its rebirth as the present-day Bethune-Cookman College.

Mary became an active voice on behalf of both women and African Americans. She began the National Council of Negro Women in 1935 and served in various positions to further the rights of African Americans. She received a high honor in 1936, when President Franklin Roosevelt appointed her as head of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration, the highest government position then held by a woman. Her educational and political accomplishments were widely recognized and she received many awards. Mary died on May 18, 1955 and 30 years later, she was honored with a postage stamp in her name. A Los Angeles middle school is also named in her memory.

Brain Challenge:

  1. What was Mary's dream as a child?
  2. Name a school Mary attended.
  3. What was Mary's job after graduating from college?
  4. How many years did Mary serve as president of the school she founded?
  5. Who gave Mary an appointment in 1936?
Shareyour answers with a parent, teacher or other adult.

Want to learn more?
Visit your school or public library to learn more about these fascinating Americans.

July 10, 1875

May 18, 1955

To increase the educational opportunities for both women and African-Americans in the United States

Scotia Seminary, 1888-94; Moody Bible Institute, 1894-95

Advanced educational opportunities for America's youth

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