How Mary McLeod Bethune Became a Pioneer in Black Education

One of 17 children born to formerly enslaved people, Mary McLeod Bethune spent the first few years of her life picking cotton as her family worked to buy the land on which they had been enslaved. At age 10, Bethune became the first and only child in her family to go to school, walking miles each way to get there. She understood the importance of education from an early age and did her best to share her newfound knowledge with her family. “The whole world opened to me when I learned to read,” Bethune said.

After completing her studies, Bethune began her teaching journey, and she spent the rest of her life devoted to the movement for Black education.

Bethune lived on the land her parents bought from their former owners

Bethune was born on July 10, 1875, near Maysville, South Carolina, just 10 years after the end of the Civil War. Life changed for Bethune when she enrolled in the one-room Trinity Presbyterian Mission School at 10 years old. 

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After getting started at Trinity Presbyterian, Bethune sought higher education by graduating from the Scotia Seminary in North Carolina in 1894, and later Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Strong in her faith, Bethune originally studied to become a missionary. But with a lack of openings and no church willing to accept her, Bethune instead turned to education.

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