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On May 10, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos gave the commencement address at Bethune-Cookman University in Florida. She was roundly booed by the graduating class. The article below recounts, for anyone in the Trump administration who may not be aware, the pioneering and extraordinary life Mary McLeod Bethune, who the University is named after. Bethune died in 1955.

‘Dreamer’ at 11, she saw many come true

Friends recall her ‘warm and understanding’ personality

May 28, 1955


Who was Mary McLeod Bethune? To a nation she was a woman who wore many titles, held numerous degrees, and left a deep impression on the political and social world.

But in the persons who knew her intimately, she was all these things and more.

And her friends, interviewed after her death, last Wednesday, told the AFRO of the Mrs. Bethune not known to the general public: of the woman who was profusely feminine, warm and understanding. 


AT THE NATIONAL Council of Negro Women’s headquarters, which was almost deserted, Friday, Mrs. Naomah Maize, executive director of the organization founded by Mrs. Bethune, pieced together her impressions of the noted educator.

Other officials of the organization, including Mrs. Virginia Carter Mason, president, were in Daytona Beach, Fla. to attend funeral services held Monday.


MRS. MAIZE recalled the story of how the desire for learning was instilled in Dr. Bethune.

The story goes that the child, Mary, about six, who lived with her family on a South Carolina farm, near Maysville, was en route to the plantation’s owner home, when she stopped to watch his daughter playing with a doll.

The white girl handed her the doll, but instead of taking it, Mary picked up a book, which was lying on the ground.

Infuriated, the white girl told the child who was to become one of the leading educators of our times: “Put that book down, you don’t know how to read.”


HUMILIATED AND ashamed Mary turned and fled toward the road, forgetting her errand and weeping bitter tears.

It was not until she was 11 years that she began to realize her dream of obtaining an education. A white missionary offered to educate one of the 17 children of Samuel and Patsy McLeod.

Mary was chosen because she had long been regarded by her family as a “dreamer.”

Thus began her formal education which included study at Scotia Seminary, in Concord, N.C., now Barber-Scotia College; the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, the University of Chicago and abroad.


THE LAST TIME Mrs. Maize saw Dr. Bethune was at the meeting of Regions III and IV of the council, held in Daytona Beach, in April.

“I remember especially her white dress,” Mrs. Maize said, “and beautiful jewels. She loved beautiful clothing.”

Mrs. Maize said Dr. Bethune’s Florida home was furnished with items collected from places all over the world. She accumulated priceless antiques and photographs taken during her numerous trips abroad.


AT THE COUNCIL headquarters, a suite was maintained for Mrs. Bethune until about two years ago, when she consented to turn it into a presidential suite for the council administration

Prior to that time, Dr. Bethune had used the suite infrequently because of the difficulty she experienced in climbing steps.

For the most time, during her visits to Washington, she lived with her “foster daughter,” Mrs. Sadie Mills Franklin, 1610 R St.

Another of Mrs. Bethune’s “foster daughters” was Mrs. Arabella Denniston, administrative assistant of the council. Mrs. Denniston, who is in Daytona for the funeral, had known Mrs. Bethune since she was two years old.


Mrs. Bethune, 79, founded the council in New York City, in 1935, was its president emeritus, but received no annuity from the organization.

“It was her wish,” a spokesman said, “that the organization itself become self-sustaining.”

Neither of the president’s who have served since Dr. Bethune’s retirement in 1949 have received financial remuneration. The post is a volunteer position.


ALTHOUGH DR. Bethune headed the organization for 16 years, terms of council presidents are now not to exceed four years.

Dr. Dorothy Ferebee, who has been described as a favorite of the noted educator, succeeded Dr. Bethune to the presidency. She was re-elected to serve another two years, and in 1953 was succeeded by Mrs. Vivian Mason present president.


BEFORE SHE ESTABLISHED the council, Dr. Bethune served as president of another women’s group, the National Association of Colored Women. It was during her administration there that the association purchased a headquarters at 1114 O St. NW. which was later moved to 1610 R St. NW.

It has been said that Dr. Bethune received the idea for the establishment of the NCNW from her work with the older association.


DR. BETHUNE’S means of support was unknown to local friends. It was believed that her income may have been derived from a modest pension from the Bethune-Cookman College, which she founded in Daytona Beach, Fla.

In great demand as a speaker, Dr. Bethune obtained other funds from her appearances as a lecturer. She was usually paid $250 for these appearances, except those she made for charitable causes and for the council.


SHE DRESSED meticulously, and was often described as a “fashionable” woman. Dr. Ferebee, who knew Dr. Bethune intimately, said she was “especially fond of pocketbooks and hats.

“She had a collection of purses of all kinds, including reptile skins, and took great pride in exhibiting them,” Dr. Ferebee said.

Dr. Ferebee said a milliner in Chicago knew of Dr. Bethune’s love for hats and always had the latest style for her during her visits once or twice a year.


ONE OF DR. Bethune’s most prized possessions, was her walking stick given to her by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt after the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The cane had been one of President Roosevelt’s most precious possessions.

It had a gold head and was hand-carved, and Mrs. Bethune delighted in showing it.

“When she carried it, she walked with a swagger to the amusement of her friends,” Dr. Ferebee said. “She was a very gracious woman.” Several of Dr. Bethune’s intimates said she had a “sense of the dramatic.”

DR. FRANK HORNE, of the Housing and Home Finance Agency, says his first interest in his career stemmed from the influence of Dr. Bethune. He first met her in New York, he said, when she was an intimate friend of his mother’s.

“I remember how she always seemed to ride through red tape,” he said. “She would keep her eyes on getting something done and do it.”

Dr. Horne worked with Mrs. Bethune in the National Youth Administration–a position he accepted at her persuasion.

Dr. Bethune was appointed to the NYA in 1936, by President Roosevelt.

Her death startled most of her friends, although she had been in declining health for several years.

In February, Dr. Bethune was honored by the council with a luncheon held at the Willard Hotel, attended by 800 persons.

It was the last trip she made to the District.