Jane McLeod Bethune
Mary Jane McLeod was born on 10 July 1875 of two former slaves, near
Maysville, South Carolina. She worked in the cotton fields but had a strong
desire to learn. She became a prize student of teacher, Emma Jane Wilson,
who recommended her for a scholarship to Scotia Seminary in North Carolina.
After graduating she received a scholarship to Moody's Institute for Home
and Foreign Missions in Chicago. She wanted to go to Africa to minister,
but was told there were no openings. She taught first with her old teacher,
then at the Haines Institute in Augusta, Georgia, and later at the Kendall
Institute in South Carolina.
After marrying, she and her husband, Albertus Bethune, went to live in
Savannah, Georgia. While there she met the Rev. C.J. Uggans, a Presbyterian
pastor from Palatka, Florida, who gave her a chance to open a school.
The Palatka Mission School was in operation from 1899-1903. In addition
to teaching, she took her mission work into the jails two or three times
a week, to sawmills, and to young people in clubs.
In 1904 the Rev. S.P. Pratt encouraged Mrs. Bethune to go to Daytona
as he felt it would suit her missionary spirit. There she founded the
Daytona Normal and Industrial School for Negro Girls. In later years it
became known nationwide as Bethune - Cookman College (B-CC), after she
merged her school with Cookman Institute as a private college. She remained
president of that school until 1942, earning a national and international
reputation as an educator, public figure in government, black woman's
club leader, and businesswoman.
During this period, Mrs. Bethune led a drive to register black voters
in Daytona Beach, which earned her a visit from the local Ku Klux Klan.
Most importantly, Mrs. Bethune was elected president of the State Federation
of Colored Women's Clubs, which she served for four years. She was able
to organize scattered groups state wide to work towards common goals.
There was a sign at her school that expressed her feelings: "Enter
to Learn - Leave to Serve." She lived those words, serving under
four United States Presidents. In 1928 she attended the Child Welfare
Conference called by President Calvin Coolidge. During President Herbert
Hoover's administration, she was summoned once again to Washington to
attend the National Commission for Child Welfare. She also served on the
Hoover Commission on Home Building and Home Ownership. She became a close
friend of Sara Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1933 President
Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her to help with the Nation Youth Administration
(NYA). She also served as director of the Division of Negro Affairs and
became the first black woman to serve as head of a federal agency.
As early as 1942, she lobbied the US War Department to commission black
women officers in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), later the Women's
Army Corps (WAC). In 1944, she became the National Commander of the Women's
Army for National Defense - an all black women's group. At this time she
was working for not only wartime, but also national peace issues.
On 25 April 1945, W.E.B. DuBois, Walter White, and Mrs. Bethune were
sent to San Francisco by President Harry S. Truman as consultants to the
organizing meeting of the United Nations. Although disappointed in the
way those meetings went, Mrs. Bethune was not put off. In 1949 President
Truman once more called upon her, this time to represent the United States
Government at the inauguration of the President of Liberia. She was to
finally realize her life dream to go to Africa, not as a missionary, but
as a representative for her nation.
Mary McLeod Bethune died 18 May 1955. Ebony magazine published Mrs. Bethune's
"Last Will and Testament" after her death. In it she said she
doubted she would live to see the greatest of her dreams realized - "full
equality for the Negro in our time." She didn't have many worldly
possessions but she said, " If I have a legacy to leave my people,
it is my philosophy of living and serving……..I pray now that
my philosophy may be helpful to those who share my vision of a world of
Peace, Progress, Brotherhood, and love."
Contents of this page are
Copyright Sisters of the Golden Moon
And should not be removed from this site.