Born to former slaves a decade after the end of the Civil War, educator and political leader Mary McLeod Bethune grew up in South Carolina as the 15th of 17 children. Despite a childhood of poverty and hard work, she walked for miles each day to attend the one-room schoolhouse established for African-American children in her community. She became the only child in her family to receive an education and began working as a teacher early in her career, eventually founding a school for African-American girls in Daytona, Florida, and serving as president of the National Association of Colored Women. In 1935, she became an adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on minority affairs and founded her own civil rights organization, the National Council of Negro Women. It is the former headquarters of her organization that is now preserved at the historic site, along with details of her extraordinary life and achievements.
"First Lady of the Struggle"
Mary McLeod Bethune was convinced at an early age that the ability to read was a key barrier to racial equality, and she dedicated her life to helping African-Americans attain better access to education, earning the nickname "First Lady of the Struggle." Her close personal friendship with Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt won her unprecedented access to the White House; she used this access to form a council of African-American advisers that became known as the Roosevelts' "Black Cabinet."