Mary McLeod Bethune: The Health Advocate You Never Knew

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Born Mary Jane Mcleod on July 10, 1875, in Mayesville, South Carolina, Mary Mcleod Bethune is known by many as a leading educator and civil rights activist. But few knew that she was instrumental in fighting for the health of African Americans as well. She grew up in poverty, as one of 17 children born to former slaves. Everyone in the family worked, and many toiled in the fields, picking cotton. Bethune became the one and only child in her family to go to school when a missionary opened a school nearby for African-American children. Traveling miles each way, she walked to school each day and did her best to share her newfound knowledge with her family.

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Bethune later received a scholarship to the Scotia Seminary (now Barber-Scotia College), a school for girls in Concord, North Carolina. After graduating from the seminary in 1893, she went to the Dwight Moody’s Institute for Home and Foreign Missions (also known as Moody Bible Institute) in Chicago. Bethune complete her studies there two years later. Returning to the South, she began her career as a teacher.

After her nine year marriage to Albertus Bethune in 1907 and because of her belief that education could open the doors to so many other fields including a healthy body and mind, Bethune founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls in Daytona, Florida, in 1904. Starting out with only five students, she helped grow the school to more 250 students over the next years. The school later became known as Bethune Cookman college.

Bethune became involved in serving on the highest level of government. President Calvin Coolidge invited her to participate a conference on child welfare to help find ways to lengthen the life of Black children. Then for President Herbert Hoover, she served on Commission on Home Building and Home Ownership and was appointed to a committee on child health.

Additionally, Bethune created the National Council of Negro Women to represent numerous groups working on critical issues for African-American women including adequate and affordable health care. She received another appointment from…