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Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) is one of the best known figures of modern African American history. The daughter of former slaves, she graduated from Scotia Seminary (Concord, North Carolina) and Moody Bible Institute.

Bethune was a national figure, an influential member of Franklin Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet,” serving from 1936 to 1943 with the National Youth Administration. She was one of three black consultants to the United States delegation that framed the United Nations charter. She founded the National Council of Negro Women. An active Methodist, she was a delegate to four General Conferences.

The focus of Bethune’s career, however, was the betterment of African American young people, and the centerpiece of her career was Bethune-Cookman College.

Mary McLeod Bethune taught in the south for several years before founding the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Girls in 1904. The school opened with five little girls and her own son, Albert. Twelve years later, she established the Mary McLeod Hospital and Training School for Nurses, the only nurses’ training school for African Americans on the east coast.

Cookman Institute was founded by the Methodist Episcopal Church’s Freedmen’s Aid Society in 1872. It was the first school established by that denomination in Florida. In 1924, Bethune and Cookman merged, forming the Daytona-Cookman Collegiate Institute. It was renamed Bethune-Cookman College in 1929.  With the introuction of a Master’s program, it was renamed Bethune-Cookman University in 2007.

Mary McLeod Bethune was president of the college from 1904 to 1942 and from 1946 to 1947. It was accredited as a junior college in 1934 and became a four-year college in 1941. Bethune-Cookman University maintains close ties to The United Methodist Church.

In 1953, Mary McLeod Bethune’s home on the college campus was dedicated as the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation. It is now a museum that recalls her many contributions to her people, her church, and her country.

Bethune’s last Will and Testament concludes, “If I have a legacy to leave my people, it is my philosophy of living and serving. As I face tomorrow, I am content. I pray now that my philosophy may be helpful to those who share my vision of a world of peace.”

Points of interest at this Heritage Landmark: Mary McLeod Bethune’s two-story frame home was built about 1914, and she lived there until her death. The home is now open as a museum with memorabilia from her life and work. Among these are her books, personal papers, trophies, plaques, and photographs. She also had an extensive collection of elephant figurines, an animal she admired for its strength and powers of memory.

Mary McLeod Bethune is buried on the campus, adjacent to the home that she willed to the American people.

Special events: Mary McLeod Bethune’s birthday (July 2) is celebrated each year, as is Founder’s Day (October 2). Bethune’s death (May 18) is also commemorated annually.

Area attractions: In the area are the beaches of Florida’s Atlantic coast; Ocala National Forest, just west of Daytona Beach; and Orlando, fifty miles southwest on Interstate 4.

To visit: The home is open Monday and Wednesday, 9:15-11:30 a.m., 1-2 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 1-4:30 p.m. Friday, 10:15-11:30 a.m., 3-4:30 p.m. Tours are limited to 20 persons at a time. It is best to visit while school is in session, September through July.

Location: Within the boundaries of the Florida Annual Conference in Volusia County, Florida. The Mary McLeod Bethune Home (headquarters of the Bethune Foundation) and her grave are on the campus of Bethune-Cookman University, 640 Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard, Daytona Beach, FL.

Food and lodging: Daytona Beach has numerous restaurants and motels. The Volusia Mall and the Hampton Inn Airport, 1715 Volusia Ave., are near the university.

Directions: Take either Interstate 92 or 95 to Daytona Beach. Take Interstate 92 (Volusia Avenue) to Nova Road. Turn left to Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard, and continue on Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard to the university.

For further information, contact: Dr. Ashley Robertson, Curator, Bethune-Cookman University and Foundation, 640 Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard, Daytona Beach, FL 32114.

To learn more about United Methodist history in this area:

Florida Annual Conference Archives, Roux Library, Florida Southern College, Lakeland, FL 33802; Nell Thrift, Annual Conference Commission chairperson.

James P. Brawley, Two Centuries of Methodist Concern: Bondage, Freedom, and Education of Black People(New York: Vantage Press, 1974)

Rackham Holt, Mary McLeod Bethune; A Biography (New York: Doubleday, 1964)