Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune is known for many things: her activism, her philanthropy and her work as an educator and civil rights activist. However, she was also a political activist.

Mary was born in South Carolina, the daughter of two former slaves. After completing her education she planned on becoming a missionary in Africa before deciding to become a teacher instead. In 1917 she became the President of the Florida chapter of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). In 1924 she became the national president of the NACW, and went on to establish national headquarters in Washington D.C., leading to the start of her political career.

In 1928 she was invited to the Child Welfare Conference by President Calvin Coolidge. Two years later she was appointed to the White House Conference on Child Health by President Herbert Hoover. In 1935 Mary founded the National Council of Negro Women; this was an amalgamation of a variety of organisations around the country that worked to improve the lives of black women and their communities. This organisation successfully advocated for black women to be commissioned as officers during WWII.

At the same time she worked for the National Youth Administration. In 1938 she became Director of the Division of Negro Affairs. Mary’s work with this organisation focused mainly on helping black people become more involved in politics. Her work caught the eye of President Roosevelt and became good friends with both him and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She formed the Federal Council of Negro Affairs, also known as the Black Cabinet. They were proactive in advocating for funding for black communities as well as helping with political appointments.

Throughout her life Mary was heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement, right up until her death in 1955. Since her death she has received a number of accolades including being inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame as well as having a monument erected to her in Lincoln Park in Washington D.C.

-Michelle O’Brien
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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