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  • Kimberley Guillemet

World Changer of the Month — June 2022: Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was born in 1875 in a small log cabin on a rice and cotton farm in South Carolina. She was the fifteenth of seventeen children born to Sam and Patsy (McIntosh) McLeod, both former slaves.

Her parents wanted to be independent, so they sacrificed to buy a farm for the family. As a child, Dr. McLeod Bethune observed that the only difference between herself and white children was the ability to read and write. She set out to change that by learning as much as she could.

When Dr. McLeod Bethune began attending her town’s one-room schoolhouse for Black children; she was the only child in her family to attend school. She would go home from school each day and teach her family what she had learned each day.

Dr. McLeod Bethune attended Scotia Seminary (now Barber-Scotia College) and later Dwight L. Moody's Institute for Home and Foreign Missions in Chicago (now the Moody Bible Institute), hoping to become a missionary in Africa. However, she was told that Black missionaries were not needed.

Dr. McLeod Bethune and her husband Albertus Bethune married in 1898. Together they had a son named Albert.

Dr. Bethune started the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training Institute for Negro Girls in 1904 with $1.50, vision, an entrepreneurial mindset, resilience, and faith in God. She created “pencils” from charred wood, ink from elderberries, and mattresses from moss-stuffed corn sacks. Her first students were five little girls and her five-year-old son, Albert Jr. In less than two years, the school grew to 250 students. Recognizing the health disparities and lack of medical treatment available to African Americans in Daytona Beach, she also founded the Mary McLeod Hospital and Training School for Nurses, which at the time was the only school of its kind that served African American women on the East coast.

Daytona Institute would continue to increase in popularity, and merged with the Cookman Institute of Jacksonville, Florida in 1923 and became Bethune-Cookman College.

Tireless, talented and committed to service, Dr. Bethune held leadership positions in several prominent organizations even while also leading her school. In 1935, she founded the National Council of Negro Women, which would become a highly influential organization with a clear civil rights agenda.

She was appointed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the National Youth Administration in 1936. By 1939 she was the organization’s Director of Negro Affairs, which oversaw the training of tens of thousands of Black youth. She was the only female member of President Roosevelt’s influential “Black Cabinet.” She leveraged her close friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to lobby for integrating the Civilian Pilot Training Program and to bring the Program to the campuses of historically Black colleges and universities, which became the alma maters of some of the first Black pilots in the country.

This text is excerpted from: and To read more about Dr. McLeod Bethune’s life and legacy, visit those websites, as well as: To view footage and hear one of her most notable speeches, visit: and


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