One of the most outstanding American women of the twentieth century, Mary McLeod Bethune was born July 10, 1875 near Mayesville, South Carolina. She founded the Literary and Industrial Training School for Girls in Daytona, Florida in 1904 in a house rented for $11 per month, selling sweet potato pies and fried fish to raise money. She also solicited donations from wealthy businessmen such as developer Henry Flagler and Proctor & Gamble magnate James Gamble, who was on the school's board of directors. In 1923, it merged with the Cookman Institute for Men and is now Bethune-Cookman University, with over 3000 students.
While serving as the school's president until 1947, Mrs. Bethune was active in many other areas. She was State President of the National Association of Colored Women from 1917 to 1925, and served as the organization's National President for one year. She was also President of the Southeastern Federation of Colored Women's Clubs from 1920 to 1925. In 1935 she founded the National Council of Negro Women, bringing together 28 separate groups.
|Bethune and students, 1910|
In addition to government duties, she was Vice President of the NAACP from 1940 to 1945, and was a leader in the Methodist Episcopal Church South as a delegate to General Conference from 1928 through 1944 and working to integrate the church. She participated in the founding of the United Nations as a part of the NAACP with W. E. B. DuBois and Walter White. From 1936 to 1951 she was President of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, founded by Carter Woodson.
She received the Springarn Medal in 1935, and in 1973 was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. A statue in her honor was erected in Washington DC engraved with these words from her essay "Last Will and Testament":
I leave you love. I leave you hope. I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another. I leave you a thirst for education. I leave you a respect for the use of power. I leave you faith. I leave you racial dignity. I leave you a desire to live harmoniously with your fellow men. I leave you, finally, a responsibility to our young people.