Although the name Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) might not be familiar today, she was a giant in her time, a leading figure in African American education and civil rights. Born to former slaves, Bethune founded a well-known school for African American girls at the beginning of the twentieth century. This grew into the co-educational Bethune Cookman University in Florida, which still exists today.
This was just the beginning of her influential career. A fighter for voting rights and women’s rights, she became Director of Negro Affairs in the Nation Youth Organization during the Roosevelt administration. She worked to get black women included into the armed forces during and after World War II. She also played a leading role in a number of national African American organizations. Read more about her here.
The undated photo above comes from Ebony, many issues which are available online through Google books. Although the photo is undated, I believe that it comes from the 1940s and documents the lasting friendship between Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt.
In my view, Bethune takes the fashion prize in this photo. At least in her mid-sixties here, she looks sharp in her tailored jacket. I love the crisp, geometric pattern of the stripes. The defined lapels—so 1940s!—draw your eyes up to her face. By contrast, Roosevelt looks a little dowdy in her lady-like droopy collar with a big bow. Wouldn’t a few stripes have helped?