Mary McLeod Bethune Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jessica Roberts

I have taught at the middle grades level for ten years and earned my MA in reading education in 2009.

Born into a poor family just after slavery ended in America, Mary McLeod Bethune helped African Americans, especially women, to rise up from poverty and get an education. Read more about this very important teacher and activist.

Early Life and Education

Born Mary Jane Bethune on July 10, 1875 in Mayesville, South Carolina, Mary was the child of former slaves. Mary started working with her parents in the rice and cotton fields at the very young age of five. She was excited about school very early on, and she went to a local school for African American students as a child. Being the only one in her family to ever attend school, Mary generously shared her new knowledge with her family.

After getting a scholarship that allowed her to pay for college, Mary attended Scotia Seminary in North Carolina. At first Mary really wanted to be a missionary so that she could travel to Africa to spread and share her Christian beliefs. Mary eventually decided to become a teacher instead.

Family and Early Career

In 1898 Mary married Albertus Bethune, who she had met in Sumter, South Carolina while she was teaching at the Kindell Institute. They had a son whom they named Albert. A few years later in 1899, the small family moved to Florida where Mary ran a religious school. (Albertus and Mary later separated in 1907.)

Mary McLeod Bethune

Starting a School

But Mary really wanted to start her own school. Mary believed that by teaching young, African American women, the lives of all African Americans would be made better.

So, in 1904, Mary and her family moved to another part of Florida--Daytona. This area held more financial promise and opportunity. Eventually, using just $1.50 and starting with only six students, Mary opened the Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in 1905. Mary actually made desks from thrown away crates, and through charity she received other supplies for her students. By 1907, the school had grown from six students to around 250 students!

Bethune with her students
bethune-first school

Mary later became the president of the school. And when her school merged with the Cookman Institute for Men in the 1920s, it became Bethune-Cookman College. Mary continued as the president until 1942. This college became a very popular institution for African Americans at the time, being one of very few colleges in the country where they could earn a college degree. (It's now known as Bethune-Cookman University.)

Bethune-Cookman College
bethune college

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