Mary McLeod Bethune was an extraordinary educator, civil rights leader, and government official who founded the National Council of Negro Women and Bethune-Cookman College. Mrs. Bethune’s background as a teacher inspired her to open the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in Daytona Beach, Florida. On October 3, 1904, the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School opened with just five students. Eventually the school blossomed to include a farm, high school, and nursing school. The school became the co-educational Bethune-Cookman College in 1929 after merging with Cookman Institute and was fully accredited in 1943. Mrs. Bethune proved her expertise not only as an educator, but also as an organizer and fundraiser through her work with Bethune-Cookman College. She employed her diverse talents when she founded the National Council of Negro Women in 1935. She envisioned the NCNW to be an “organization of organizations” that would represent the national and international concerns of black women. It would also give black women the opportunity to realize their goals for social justice and human rights through united, constructive action.
In addition to being an educator and an organizer, Mrs. Bethune was also a political activist. She was the first African- American woman to be involved in the White House, assisting four different presidents. But she had the most significant influence on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Government. From 1936-1945 she served as the informal “race leader at large” for the administration. Mrs. Bethune was also one of the most influential African American leaders in the Black Cabinet, which organized the Federal Council on Negro Affairs. She also served as Director of Negro Affairs for the National Youth Administration, where she tirelessly worked to help young people find jobs and to secure funds for youth.
In 1974, Mrs. Bethune became the first black leader and the first woman to have a monument, the Bethune Memorial Statue, erected on public park land in Washington DC in honor of her remarkable contributions. She also became the only black woman to be honored with a memorial site in the nation’s capital in 1994 when the National Park Service acquired the Council House, Bethune’s last official residence and the original headquarters of the NCNW. Today the Council House offers a variety of educational programs and exhibits. Mary McLeod Bethune’s legacy of education, civil rights, and leadership continues to endure. Since 1943, Bethune-Cookman College has graduated more than 12,900 students. In addition, the college offers bachelor’s degrees in 26 major areas.
Today, the NCNW consists of over 39 national affiliates and over 240 sections, connecting more than 4,000,000 women to the organization! Mrs. Bethune’s dedication and remarkable achievements continue to inspire the mission and work of the NCNW.