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In 1954, Mary McLeod Bethune, then 79 years old, was proclaimed "Mother of The Century" when she received the Dorie Miller Gold Cup award from the Dorie Miller Memorial Foundation.

In awarding this honor to Bethune, the Dorie Miller Memorial Foundation recognized Bethune’s founding of Bethune-Cookman College, and her leadership in fighting for equality for Black Americans. In this regard, the Miller Foundation particularly stressed Bethune’s founding and leadership of the National Council of Negro Women, but they might equally have mentioned Bethune’s leadership of the National Association of Colored Women, her years of government service on the National Youth Administration and the Federal Council on Negro Affairs, and her representation at the San Francisco Conference for the United Nations.

The Dorie Miller Foundation was not the only group to recognize Bethune’s extraordinary career. In the 1930s and 1940s, Bethune received a number of awards, including the Ida M. Tarbell Recognition (as one out of fifty distinguished women of America) in 1931, the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP in 1935, The Frances Drexel Award in 1941, The Thomas Jefferson Award in 1942, and the Haitian Medal of Honor in 1949.

For researchers interested in the extraordinary life of Mary McLeod Bethune, ProQuest offers several excellent sources of information. First in the list are the Mary McLeod Bethune Papers in ProQuest History Vault Black Freedom in the 20th Century: Organizational Records and Personal Papers.

The Mary McLeod Bethune Papers consist of the Bethune-Cookman Collection and the four-part Bethune Foundation Collection. The Bethune-Cookman Collection documents Bethune’s career as president of Bethune-Cookman College (B-CC). Bethune founded what became B-CC 110 years ago as an elementary school. She started the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls on October 3, 1904, in a rented house in Daytona, Florida, “with five little girls, a dollar and a half, and faith in God.”

The Bethune Foundation Collection of the Mary McLeod Bethune Papers consists of biographical material about Bethune, her correspondence, writings and speeches, scrapbooks and diaries, and her files from her years of service with the National Youth Administration and National Association of Colored Women. The biographical items in the collection detail Bethune’s childhood, her family, early education, early career as a teacher, her mission work in Florida, and the founding of the Daytona Educational and Industrial Institute. The speeches and writings series includes several significant statements, such as Bethune’s reaction to the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, and a speech entitled “Negro Women Facing Tomorrow” that she gave at the 1941 Convention of the National Association of Colored Women (the first page of this speech is shown here.)

In addition, The Bethune Foundation collection contains supplementary information about the administration of Bethune-Cookman College. While the Mary McLeod Bethune Papers are primarily text records, the Bethune Foundation collection does include a very interesting series of photographs of Bethune and of Daytona Educational and Industrial Institute and Bethune-Cookman College (seen here).

Along with the the Mary McLeod Bethune Papers, three other collections in ProQuest History Vault document Mary McLeod Bethune’s career. Bethune’s office files during her tenure as director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration are contained in New Deal Agencies and Black America. This collection is part of the Black Freedom Struggle in the 20th Century: Federal Government Records module. Bethune’s role as president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs is covered in Records of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC). Like the Mary McLeod Bethune Papers, the NACWC collection is part of the Black Freedom Struggle in the 20th Century: Organizational Records and Personal Papers module. The NAACP Papers collection in ProQuest History Vault covers Bethune’s membership on the NAACP Board of Directors and her role as a delegate to the United Nations founding convention in 1945.

Beyond ProQuest History Vault, another perspective on Bethune’s life is available in the Black Newspapers available in ProQuest’s Black Studies Center. Most notably, Black Studies Center includes Bethune’s columns that ran in the Pittsburgh Courier from March 1937-November 1938 and her columns that were printed in the Chicago Defender from 1948-1955.

Learn more about History Vault and Black Studies Center and see our Black History Milestones Timeline

Librarians, sign up for a free trial of History Vault, Black Studies Center, and other complementary digitized resources with content that isn’t available anywhere else.

25 Feb 2014

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