5 things to know about Mary McLeod Bethune, who’s getting a statue in the U.S. Capitol

Her likeness will replace that of a Confederate general in Statuary Hall.
Mary McLeod Bethune was one of the most influential African-American women in the United States. [State Archives of Florida]
Mary McLeod Bethune was one of the most influential African-American women in the United States. [State Archives of Florida]
Published March 20, 2018

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has signed a bill that will place Mary McLeod Bethune in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.

On Monday, the governor signed SB 472 which says the statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, which has been one of two statues representing Florida, will be replaced with one of Bethune, an educator, civil and human rights leader, and an adviser to five presidents.

Here are five more things to know about her:

1. She was the 15th of 17 children born to former slaves Samuel and Patsy McLeod. She was born on July 10, 1875, near Mayesvilles, S.C., in Sumter County.

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2. In 1904 she moved from Georgia, where she had married Albertus Bethune, to Daytona Beach, reportedly with only $1.50 in her pocket, to begin her own school: the Daytona Normal and Industrial School for Negro Girls. The school opened with five girls in a four-room cottage. Within two years, enrollment had grown to 250 students.

3. By 1923, the Daytona Institute had 300 girls enrolled and a 25-member faculty and staff on its eight-building, 20-acre campus. That year, she transformed the school into a college to train teachers. The institute merged with the Cookman Institute, a men's college in Jacksonville. The new school was renamed Bethune-Cookman College in 1929.

4. In 1935, she united several major national black women's associations to create the National Council of Negro Women and focused the organization's activities against segregation and discrimination toward black women, on cultivating better international relations, and on national liberal causes. That same year she became a special adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on minority affairs. In 1936, FDR made her director of the National Youth Administration's Division of Negro Affairs. She became a friend to the president and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

5. Shortly before her death on May 18, 1955, Bethune wrote "My Last Will and Testament" for Ebony magazine. Among her list of spiritual bequests, she wrote "I leave you a thirst for education. Knowledge is the prime need of the hour." Bethune closed with 'If I have a legacy to leave my people, it is my philosophy of living and serving."

Information from the Florida Memory Project, and was used in this report.