Skip to main content

The National Portrait Gallery will be open Wednesdays through Sundays 11:30 a.m.–7 p.m. beginning Sept. 18 at Eighth and G streets N.W. Refer to Visit for the latest visitor safety guidelines, including a new requirement for free timed-entry passes for all ages.

Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune
Usage Conditions Apply
Artist
Betsy Graves Reyneau, 1888 - 1964
Sitter
Mary McLeod Bethune, 10 Jul 1875 - 18 May 1955
Date
1943
Type
Painting
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
Stretcher: 114.9 x 89.5 x 2.5cm (45 1/4 x 35 1/4 x 1")
Frame: 133.4 x 108 x 6.4cm (52 1/2 x 42 1/2 x 2 1/2")
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the Harmon Foundation
Restrictions & Rights
Usage conditions apply
Copyright
© Peter Edward Fayard
Object number
NPG.67.78
Exhibition Label
On paper, the New Deal programs enacted to ease the economic sufferings of the Depression were open to everyone, but in practice, racial discrimination often kept African Americans from sharing in their full benefits. A black educator and founder of Bethune-Cookman College, Mary McLeod Bethune was determined to correct that inequity. As an official in the National Youth Administration, she proved remarkably effective in assuring blacks access to its employment programs. But her efforts did not stop there. In 1936 she was the chief organizer of a group of Washington-based African American leaders known as the "black cabinet," whose self-appointed mission was to maintain steady pressure on the federal government to create better job opportunities for blacks. Bethune had no physical need for the cane she holds in her portrait. She used it, she said, to give herself "swank."
The Harmon Foundation, a philanthropic organization based in New York City and active from (1922-1967) included this portrait in their exhibition “Portraits of Outstanding Americans of Negro Origins” which documented noteworthy African Americans’ contributions to the country. Modeling their goal of social equality, the Harmon sought portraits from an African-American artist, Laura Wheeler Waring and Euro-American artist, Betsy Graves Reyneau. The two painters followed the conventional codes of academic portraiture, seeking to convey their sitters extraordinary accomplishments. This painting, along with a variety of educational materials, toured nation-wide for ten years serving as a visual rebuttal to racism.
Provenance
Harmon Foundation; gift 1967 to NPG.
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
Exhibition
20th Century Americans: 1930-1960
On View
NPG, South Gallery 321