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Today's History Lesson


Our current history lesson is about Mary McLeod Bethune

(July 10, 1875 – May 18, 1955)


Mary McLeod Bethune was an American educator, philanthropist, humanitarian, womanist, and civil rights activist. Bethune founded the National Council of Negro Women in 1935, established the organization's flagship journal Aframerican Women's Journal, and presided as president or leader for a myriad of African American women's organizations including the National Association for Colored Women and the National Youth Administration's Negro Division.


She also was appointed as a national advisor to president Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom she worked with to create the Federal Council on Colored Affairs, also known as the Black Cabinet. She is well-known for starting a private school for African American students in Daytona Beach, Florida. It later continued to develop as Bethune-Cookman University. She was the sole African American woman officially a part of the U.S .delegation that created the United Nations charter, and she held a leadership position for the American Women's Voluntary Services founded by Alice Throckmorton McLean.


For her lifetime of activism, she was deemed "acknowledged First Lady of Negro America" by Ebony magazine in April 1949 and was known by the Black Press as the "Female Booker T. Washington". She was known as "The First Lady of The Struggle" because of her commitment to promote better lives for African Americans.

Born in Mayesville, South Carolina, to parents who had been slaves, she started working in fields with her family at age five. She took an early interest in becoming educated; with the help of benefactors, Bethune attended college hoping to become a missionary in Africa.


She started a school for African American girls in Daytona Beach, Florida. It later merged with a private institute for African American boys and was known as the Bethune-Cookman School. She maintained high standards and promoted the school with tourists and donors to demonstrate what educated African Americans could do. She was president of the college from 1923 to 1942, and from 1946 to 1947. She was one of the few women in the world to serve as a college president at that time.

In the early 1900s, Daytona Beach, Florida, lacked a hospital that would help people of color. Bethune had the idea to start a hospital after an incident involving one of her students. She was called to the bedside of a young female student who fell ill with appendicitis. It was clear that the student needed immediate medical attention. Nevertheless, there was no local hospital to take her to that would treat Black people. Bethune demanded that the White physician at the local hospital help the girl. When Bethune went to visit her student, she was asked to enter through the back door. At the hospital, she found that her student had been neglected, ill-cared for, and segregated in an outdoor hospital.


She found a cabin near the school, and through sponsors helping her raise money, she purchased it for five thousand dollars. In 1911, Bethune opened the first Black hospital in Daytona, Florida. It started with two beds and, within a few years, held twenty. Both White and Black physicians worked at the hospital, along with Bethune's student nurses. This hospital went on to save many black lives within the twenty years that it operated.

During that time, both Black and White people in the community relied on help from the McLeod hospital. After an explosion at a nearby construction site, the hospital took in injured Black workers. The hospital and its nurses were also praised for their efforts with the 1918 influenza outbreak. During this outbreak, the hospital was full and had to overflow into the school's auditorium. In 1931, Daytona's public hospital, Halifax, agreed to open a separate hospital for people of color. Black people would not fully integrate into the public hospital's main location until the 1960s.

Update to a Previous History Lesson

We recently had a history lesson about Denver sculptor and former astronaut trainee Ed Dwight. We are delighted to announce that Ed made it into space! Click here to read about Ed's flight aboard Blue Origin's rocket on May 19, 2024.

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