BETHUNE, MARY McLEOD Born on July 10, 1875, Mary Jane McLeod was the daughter of ex-slave cotton farmers near Mayesville, South Carolina. During her youth, she decided to enter the missionary field. Toward this end, she attended Scotia Seminary in North Carolina for seven years and Moody Bible Institute in Chicago for one year. When her application for a missionary position in Africa was rejected by the Presbyterian Board of Missions, however, she redirected her vocational interests to the teaching profession and, in the meantime, married Albertus Bethune.
In 1904, Mrs. Bethune founded the Daytona Educational and Industrial School for Negro Girls in Daytona Beach, Florida. Beginning with five students, one dilapidated building which she rented, and very little cash, Mrs. Bethune slowly nurtured her little school until it had become a respectable educational institution with a student body of six hundred in 1923. In that year, the Daytona school affiliated itself with the Board of Education of the Methodist Church and, concurrently, merged with Cookman Institute for Boys at Jacksonville to form Bethune-Cookman Institute. Mrs. Bethune served as president of the Institute (later to be renamed Bethune-Cookman College) until 1947. Following her retirement, she continued to serve the college in the capacity of president-emeritus and trustee until her death in 1955.
In addition to her educational interests and activities, Mrs. Bethune gained national prominence as an adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She was a member of Roosevelt's unofficial "Black Cabinet," which also included black notables Ralph Bunche and Robert C. Weaver.
Mrs. Bethune also served on the Advisory Committee of the National Youth Administration and was President Roosevelt's Special Advisor on Minority Affairs between 1935-1944. Winner of the NAACP's Spingarn Award in 1935 for "contributions to Negro education," Mrs. Bethune was also active in African American women's organizations. She was president of the National Association of Colored Women between 1926-1930 and founder-president of the National Council of Negro Women from 1935 to 1949. See also: BLACK CABINET.