Education is an important part of making it through life and few women promoted this concept throughout their lives like Mary McLeod Bethune. Born in 1875 as the 15th of 17 children in South Carolina right after the civil war; with older siblings who were slaves, she dedicated her life to founding organizations that promoted education and racial equality. Her early education and teaching positions were in religious institutions at a time when segregation was the law of the land. Teaching in Presbyterian schools in southern states such as Georgia and South Carolina, she eventually made her way to Florida where she opened a school in Florida for the children of railway construction workers. In her role as the founder of the school, she was the chief fundraiser and teacher.
Her students were among the most disadvantaged groups in society. In the beginning her schools served girls and the subjects focused on religion and industrial education before adding more academic subjects. Funding for her school came in part from big donors such as the co-founder of Proctor and Gamble and the White Sewing Machine Company. She added nursing classes in 1911 in an effort to serve a community need because the only hospital in the area served whites only. In the 1920’s she opened another school that focused on post-secondary education which eventually became a full four-year college.
The post-World War I years was a transition for Mary into a social justice warrior. Her efforts focused mostly on supporting anti-lynching bills and integration of black people in the public sphere. In order to see this mission succeed she created the National Association of Colored Women. This organization was located in the power center of Washington D.C. to extend her sphere of influence. Right after forming this organization and locating in D.C. she formed an alliance with the National Council of Women. This organization was more powerful and membership was mostly white.
Mary’s strategy for social change was what can be described as the inside-outside game. Her D.C. based work centered on having close relationships with people in power-while maintaining an independent distance to keep her ties close to the community she is advocating for. She served in the administrations of Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin Roosevelt. She was a close personal friend of Eleanor Roosevelt and on occasion share the same stage as her. It was in the Roosevelt administration where she had the most impact on policy and the black community she advocated for. Her stances on positions include equal pay and employment for blacks in the defense industry, programs for black youth, and running black women for public office.
Making It to The Finish Line values in education and equality are reflected in Mary’s life’s work. Creating the building blocks that creates a successful person starts at a young age and has to be maintained constantly. Also the spirit of cooperation and forming alliances is essential in going through life and achieving goals. This is a person who should be honored and recognized as a pioneer in American history.
Lewis, J. J. (2015, August 21). Learn about Educator and Activist Mary McLeod Bethune. Retrieved September 14, 2016, from http://womenshistory.about.com/od/bethune/a/mary_bethune.htm