“We have a powerful potential in our youth, and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we may direct their power toward good ends.” – Mary McLeod Bethune
Born in South Carolina, Mary was the daughter of slaves. Forced into labor at a young age led her to become very involved in her own, as well as other’s, educations. She moved to Daytona Beach, Florida in 1899, determined to improve prison conditions and run a missionary school. Mary worked tirelessly in order to open a school for African-American girls. She founded Bethune-Cookman University (via) and was president for almost 20 years, from 1923 to 1942. She was one of the first women to be a University president.
            Mary was an educator, Civil Rights and Women’s Rights activist. Her dedication for both groups led her to become president of the National Association of Colored Women, where her main goal was to register as many black voters as possible. She continuously worked for all marginalized groups and was adamant in forming a more educated youth.
            Mary had a close friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt. Between that and her prominence as an activist, Mary created the Federal Council on Negro Affairs, which would become Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (FDR) Black Cabinet. The cabinet was FDR’s aim to help better address the concerns of the African-American community. She was one of the first African-American women to have such unprecedented access to the White House, and it allowed her to explain to the Roosevelt’s the plight of Black Americans.
            Mary was an outspoken adviser and a firm believer that everyone, regardless of race and gender, deserved an education. Mary was the only black woman to be present at the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco, proving how imperative her work was to making strides towards social justice. She was an exceptional leader, strong woman, and is an inspiration for all of us.
What kind of qualities do you think Mary needed to be as successful as she was?

Estefania Pugliese is a communications intern for the South Florida Office. She is a Mount Holyoke student, and Posse Scholar. She is currently studying Economics and International Relations.