History's Empowered Women: Mary McLeod Bethune

Colleen Napolitano

Posted on February 12 2018

History's Empowered Women: Mary McLeod Bethune

“Invest in the human soul. Who knows, it may be a diamond in the rough.”


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Remembered as "The First Lady of The Struggle," Mary McLeod Bethune was a tireless advocate for improving the lives of Black children, women, and men in the USA. Born in South Carolina as the daughter of slaves, Mary's passion for learning took her from working in the fields on a plantation to pursuing higher education in Chicago, eventually becoming a teacher herself. 

In 1904, she founded a school for Black girls in Daytona, Florida, giving children who likely would not have had the chance to seek education the opportunity they needed. Within a year, Mary's classroom grew from six students to over 30, gaining broad attention and giving the grassroots effort much-needed financial backing. Her remarkable conviction won the support of Booker T. Washington, John D. Rockefeller, and Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt, who came to view her as not only a friend but an invaluable advisor.

A significant figure in the National Association of Colored Women, the National Council of Negro Women, and the National Youth Administration, Mary's influence on the Civil Rights movement and the push toward accessible education for all children resounded across the nation. Of her unparalleled positivity and unwavering determination for the betterment of the world, columnist Louis E. Martin said, "She gave out faith and hope as if they were pills and she some sort of doctor."


Learn more about Mary McLeod Bethune's legacy here.


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