In Her Own Words: Remarkable Women in 20th-Century Florida

Mary McLeod Bethune, 1875-1955

"I think that actually, the first hurt that came to me in my childhood was the contrast of what was being done for the white children and the lack of what we got."

— Mary McLeod Bethune[1]

Mary McLeod Bethune arrived at Daytona Beach in September 1904, determined to open her own school for Black girls. Born free to formerly-enslaved parents, Bethune believed education was a way for Black people to improve their lives. She rented a small house and opened the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls, starting out with only five young girls and her son, Albert. Local Black churches and private donors helped keep the school running as enrollment rapidly increased. In 1923, the school merged with the Cookman Institute of Jacksonville to become the coeducational Bethune-Cookman College, with Bethune serving as president until 1942.

In addition to her educational work, Bethune helped lead several regional and national organizations promoting the interests of Black Americans. She presided over the Florida Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs from 1917 to 1924, and led voter registration drives to increase Black voter turnout after the passage of the 19th Amendment. In 1935, she founded the National Council of Negro Women, which sought to improve the quality of life for Black women and their families. She was also one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s closest advisers on African American affairs. Roosevelt appointed her to leadership positions in both the National Youth Administration and the Women’s Army Corps during World War II.

National Council of Negro Women Brochure, 1946

Brochure from the National Council of Negro Women, 1946.

Telegram from Mary McLeod Bethune to Governor Doyle Carlton Protesting the Use of Black Female Convicts for Carrying and Installing Heavy Posts in Jacksonville, 1932

A telegram from Mary McLeod Bethune to Governor Doyle Carlton protesting the use of Black female convicts for installing posts in the streets of Jacksonville, March 13, 1932.

Letter from Mary McLeod Bethune to Josephine T. Washington, 1946

A letter from Mary McLeod Bethune to Josephine T. Washington discussing her educational philosophy, September 29, 1946.

More from Florida Memory
At the Archives
  • Biographical Records on Mary McLeod Bethune, 1890-1960, Collection M95-2, State Archives of Florida.
  • Eunice Liberty Papers, 1967-1995, Collection M95-3, State Archives of Florida.
  • Governor Carlton Correspondence, 1929-1933, Series S204, Box 24, State Archives of Florida.
  • Governor Collins Correspondence, 1955-1961, Series S776, Box 23, State Archives of Florida.
  • Governor Sholtz Correspondence, 1933-1937, Series S278, Box 73, State Archives of Florida.
  • State Defense Council Subject files, 1940-1946, Series S419, Box 33, State Archives of Florida.
  1. ^Mary McLeod Bethune interview with Dr. Charles Spurgeon Johnson, ca. 1939, State Archives of Florida.