Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation National Historic Landmark
“History of the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation”
In 1953 the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation was created “as a place to awaken people and to have them realize that there is something in the world they can do” in the words of Dr. Bethune. The headquarters for the Foundation was Mrs. Bethune’s home, which was known as “The Retreat”. The home was built in 1905 by an experienced African American builder named Mr. A.B. Raddick. Previously he’d also built homes for wealthy whites who lived on the beachside of Daytona Beach and this home was thought of as a “model home”. In 1913 the home was purchased for Mrs. Bethune by Mr. James Norris Gamble, the chemist who devised the formula for dove soap, and Mr. Thomas White of White Sewing Machine Company. It was recognized as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service in 1974. After the 1955 death of Mrs. Bethune “The Retreat” became known as the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation and has since been visited by thousands of visitors each year. All of the artifacts and pieces are original to the home and were the personal belongings of Dr. Bethune.
Mary McLeod Bethune was born July 10, 1875 in Mayesville, South Carolina to formerly enslaved parents Patsy and Samuel McLeod. She was the fifteenth of seventeen children and the first to be born into freedom. At the age of eleven, she was given the opportunity to attend a local Presbyterian school. Thereafter, she attended Scotia Seminary (graduating in 1894) in North Carolina and Moody Bible College in Chicago. It was after Moody that she attempted to go to Africa, but the board explained to her that they were no longer allowing Black missionaries to go to Africa. In 1896, Mary was fortunate enough to obtain a job teaching for Lucy Craft Laney at the Haines Normal and Industrial School in Augusta Georgia. While teaching she met her husband Albertus Bethune and married in 1898. In 1899, the two became parents when Albert was born. In September 1904, she arrived in Daytona Beach, Florida with $1.50 in her pocket, and by October 3, 1904, she opened the doors of the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls. In 1923, Mrs. Bethune began the process of merging her all-girls school with Cookman Institute, a co-ed Methodist Church founded in 1872. During this time she was also active on behalf of women’s rights and was a member of the National Association of Colored Women. She served as the organization’s National President from 1924-28. After establishing the school and working with local women’s organizations, Mrs. Bethune became politically involved and worked in advisory roles for four U.S. Presidents. She served as a delegate to the Child Welfare Conference under Calvin Coolidge and worked on the National Committee on Child Welfare as a member under the leadership of Herbert Hoover. During the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he implemented a number of programs under “The New Deal” in which the National Youth Administration (NYA) was one of those programs which was designed to provide work relief to students from ages 16-25. In 1936, President Roosevelt appointed her to a larger role. Mrs. Bethune became the head of the Office of Minority Affairs, under the NYA program making her the first Black women to head a federal agency. Under President Harry Truman’s administration, she served as a consultant on interracial relations and as an international delegate. She also established her very own organization. The National Council of Negro Women was founded December 5th 1935 at the 137th street branch of the Y.W.C.A. in New York City. Serving as an umbrella organization, NCNW brought together sororities, professional organizations and business organizations. In 1945, Mrs. Bethune served as a consultant at the San Francisco Conference, which is also known as the meeting that led to the founding of the United Nations. Bethune—who had long been involved as a member of the NAACP, was a recipient of the Spingarn Medal in 1935, vice president of the organization in 1940, and a member of the Board of Directors from 1945 to 1955. She was invited to be a part of the NAACP delegation along with W.E.B. Dubois and Walter White.
After a lifetime of gracious giving and working on behalf of peoples all over the world, Dr. Bethune quietly passed away May 18, 1955.