Civil Rights Tour: Employment - Mary McLeod Bethune

1318 Vermont Avenue NW

Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) worked tirelessly for the economic advancement of African Americans, and especially for the empowerment of black women and youth. Her "combination of deference, flattery, and political pragmatism betrayed a tactical awareness of how best to deal with white people," wrote one historian of her extraordinary skill in engaging white philanthropists and political elites.

Mary McLeod Bethune began traveling to D.C. from her native Florida after her election as president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in 1924. After creating a school for African American girls in Daytona Beach, Florida in 1905 and eventually merging it with Cookman College in 1922, Bethune emerged as a leading expert on black education and a fierce advocate for black employment in the federal government.

In 1935, Bethune founded and became president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). NCNW injected into national politics the concerns of the numerous black women's organizations it represented, especially as Bethune rose to become a key advisor within President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration. It fought to outlaw the poll taxes that kept many African Americans from voting; advocated for a national public health program; demanded that lynching be outlawed; and worked to end discrimination in federal employment and in housing.

While serving as the Negro Affairs director for President Roosevelt's National Youth Administration, Bethune joined the Negro Alliance in 1939 in picketing People's Drug for refusing to hire African Americans.

In 1943, Bethune moved herself and the organization's headquarters  to the Victorian house at 1318 Vermont Avenue NW where she lived and worked until her death in 1955. After a fire in 1966, the Council relocated its headquarters to Dupont Circle and later to Pennsylvania Avenue, while the "Council House," under Dorothy Height's leadership, opened to the public as a museum and archive in 1979. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1982.