Influential Women #02: Mary Jane McLeod Bethune

Mary Jane McLeod Bethune is one of the many women that are not talked about at all, yet was the source of many significant changes mostly in the USA. Not only did she single-handedly help improve education for all minorities in the USA, but she also played a very significant role in the USA’s battle for equal civil rights for all.

Bethune was born in July 1875, and grew up with 16 siblings. Her parents were slaves, and most of her siblings were born into slavery too. As she helped her mother deliver white people’s wash to their homes, she was sometimes allowed into the nursery of white children – that’s where she first came across a book. However, she was told that she’d never be able to read it by one of the children that lived there, and they took the book away. That’s when Mary Jane decided she would start to study.

And study she did. She first attended Trinity Mission School, and after one of her teachers helped her get a scholarship for college. Mary Jane first wanted to become a missionary in Africa, but she was told black missionaries were not needed, so she decided to settle on a career in education, especially focusing on educating minorities in the USA. She succeeded greatly in her plan: she eventually founded what is now known as the Bethune-Cookman College, one of the few colleges back then where African-American men and women could get a college degree.

She didn’t stop there: in 1924, Mary Jane became the leader of the National Association of Colored Women, and also started the National Council of Negro Women in 1935, which goal was to advance the opportunities and the quality of life of African-American women. Besides that, she aided several presidents, who often asked her advice regarding child welfare and minority affairs. She was personal friends with F.D. Roosevelt and his wife. She worked with the NAACP, and became the director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration.

In short: Mary Jane McLeod Bethune influenced not only education, but several civil rights movements – she made an actual difference for the African-American minority in the USA. Wonder what became of that kid that took her book away from her and told her she’d never be able to read?

  • L. Parole



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