Mary McLeod Bethune circa 1910
(image: WikiCommons)

by Holly Goodchild

There are many aspects of Bethune’s life which are truly inspiring. One example, was her creation of the ‘Daytona Beach Literary and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls’ in 1904. This was extraordinary because, at the time the level of education available for African American children was almost non-existent. Many children were encouraged to work on farms rather than acquire an education and barriers was even greater for girls. Furthermore, even if African American children did get the chance to go to school the facilities were far worse than those provided in schools for white children. However, Bethune changed this. Even with the small amount of money she had available, she created her own benches and tables in her school using discarded crates. The school grew rapidly and she had a variety of courses including Science, Business and Liberal Arts. As the school progressed it become even more inclusive as it combined with the Cookman Institute of Jacksonville;  the school became co-ed, and in 1943 began issuing its first degrees. This drove Bethune’s determination to further succeed and she went on to become even more influential in areas beyond education.

As a person, Bethune’s resilience started as a child where she came from an enslaved family and worked so hard that even at the age of 9 she could carry 250 pounds of cotton in one day. She was the first in her family to go to school, walking 5 miles every day there and back to sit in one room, but she carried on working hard to become an educator.

After Bethune founded her school and encouraged black women to register to vote there, she led drives to inspire even more women to vote. Consequently she played a politically important role in improving suffrage during the Great Depression. This led her to become the highest ranking African American women in Congress at the time, giving her a larger platform to inform and fight against racism, for instance when she took the lead in fighting to end lynching. Moreover, Bethune influence in developing women’s rights grew as she became the president of the National Association of Coloured Women. This highlights that, throughout her life, she never gave up and always strove for equality for women and African Americans in a time where they were still segregated and persecuted in US society. 

The reason Bethune inspires me personally is because I would like to become a teacher myself and her desire for everyone to have an equal opportunity to be educated is fundamentally important. In addition, she inspired young people to have the confidence to go after an occupation and to vote. This is something I hope to emulate by inspiring young people to take a stand in politics and to be heard. I would also like to be able to have the opportunity to help students become self- assured and resilient, just like Mary McLeod Bethune managed to do so amazingly throughout her life.