Life Story: Mary McLeod Bethune, (1875–1955)

Fighting for Racial Equality through Education and Public Service

The story of a woman whose Progressive Era commitment to education and civil rights led to high-profile roles in New Deal America.

Portrait of Mary McLeod Bethune

Carl Van Vechten, Portrait of Mary McLeod Bethune, 1949. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, Van Vechten Collection, Washington, D.C.

Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Carol M. Highsmith (photographer), Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial, Washington, D.C., 1980. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Suggested Activities

  • Lesson Plan: In this lesson designed for eleventh grade, students will learn about Mary McLeod Bethune and her fight for racial equality.
  • Mary was part of a vast network of women involved in New Deal policies and work. Compare her life story with those of Dorothea Lange and Ellen Woodward.
  • Mary’s life was very similar to that of Mary Church Terrell. Compare their life stories and consider how each woman fought for the rights of African Americans.
  • Mary was not the only woman of color to struggle with the balance of women’s rights and Black rights. Combine this life story with that of Pauli Murray, who coined the term “Jane Crow.”
  • Mary had a successful career as an educator in the Progressive Era before her work during the Great Depression. Combine her story with resources from Modernizing America, 1889–1920.



Source Notes