Mary McLeod Bethune, now known to many as ” The Great Educator”, was born on July 10, 1875 in a town near Maysville, South Carolina. Mary was one of seventeen children and brought into life by Samuel and Patsy McLeod. Both of her parents were former slaves who were emancipated after the Civil War. After being freed, Mary’s mother continued to work for her former owner, and with the help of the rest of the family, was eventually able to gain five acres of land on which Mary’s father grew cotton. Mary’s mother Patsy McLeod often took Mary along with her as she walked to pick up and deliver laundry to white peoples homes. On occasion, Mary was allowed to play with the white people’s children along with their toys. The story is told that one day while playing with some of these children, Mary picked up a book. No sooner than she could open the book, a white child quickly snatched the book, and proceeded to tell Mary that black children could not read.
Later on down the line, a school for black children opened near by. However, the McLeod family only had enough money to send one child. Mary was chosen to receive education, and soon began attending school. Mary walked five miles just to get to and from school everyday, and in her spare time she taught the rest of her family what she had learned In school. Mary quickly rose to the top of her class.
Her teacher Emma Jane Wilson recommended that Mary be sent to Scotia Seminary located in North Carolina. Mary’s parents could not afford to send Mary to Scotia Seminary, but when a young Quaker teacher in Colorado named Mary Chrissman heard what an excellent student Mary was, she made it possible for Mary to go to the boarding school. Ms. Chrissman supported Mary for 50 years following that, even though it was many decades before they actually got the opportunity to meet.
After graduating from the Scotia Seminary, Mary spent six years teaching in North Carolina. She originally had dreams of becoming an African missionary. After spending some time training to become one at the Bible Institute for Home and Foreign missions in Chicago, Mary was turned down by the Presbyterian Mission Board because they did not accept African American’s for this type of work.
After the great disappointment, Mary returned to teaching and began Working for at the Haines Institute in Augusta Georgia . She the spent some time at the Kendall Institute in Sumner, South Carolina were she met her husband Albert Bethune.
After getting married in 1898, the newly weds moved to Palatka Florida. The following year on February 3, Bethune gave birth to her first and last child Albertus McLeod Bethune Jr. The couple divorced in 1904, and Bethune opened her own school, the Daytona Beach literary School for Training Negro Girls.
Bethune worked hard to get her school started, including selling sweet potato pies, fundraisers, and donations. The school originally had five students, but by 1922 had 300 students, and 25 staff. In 1923, the school merge with the Cookman Institute for Men and in 1929 it became known as the Bethune-Cookman College. Mary McLeod Bethune also had many other accomplishments under her belt. She died on May 18, 1955 with the title “The Great Educator”.