Mary Hatwood Futrell was an educator, who is best known as being the fourth person of color to become President of the National Education Association when she was elected to that post in 1983. Mary Alice Franklin Hatwood Futrell was born in Altavista, Virginia, on May 24, 1940. Her mother, Josephine (Austin) was a domestic and factory worker. Her father was a construction worker, who he died of kidney disease when Hatwood was four years old.
Hatwood attended Dunbar High School in Altavista where she was involved in a number of student body activities including being a cheerleader, a member of the student government, and a member of the National Honor Society. When Hatwood graduated in 1958, her teachers presented her with an envelope containing an informal scholarship, collected from local churches, business, and individuals, in the amount of $1,500.
Hatwood attended Virginia State College (now University), where she again became a cheerleader, as well as a member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. She graduated in 1962 with a BA in Business Education, and immediately took a job as a teacher at Parker Gray High School in Alexandria, a position she held until 1964. In 1965, Hatwood became part of the first black teaching staff, integrating George Washington High School in Alexandria. Her experiences through the process sparked her interests in getting involved in bigger educational decisions, and she began to run for the School Board. In 1967, facing strong opposition, she did not win a seat, but challenged the election in court and won.
Hatwood earned her MA in Secondary Education from George Washington University, in Washington, D.C. in 1968. Five years later in 1973, she was elected President of the Education Association of Alexandria. In 1976 Hatwood became the first African American president of the Virginia Education Association (VEA) in 1976, and took a leave of absence from teaching to fulfill her obligations.
On October 8, 1977, Hatwood married Donald Futrell, a physical education teacher and coach. She returned to the classroom in 1978 as Mrs Futrell and was immediately elected to the board of the National Education Association (NEA). While there she headed their human relation’s commission. Futrell stepped down from teaching in 1983, when she took the full time position of secretary-treasurer for the NEA.
Later, after taking the staff position for the NEA, Futrell at the age of 43 was elected President of the organization. With that election People magazine named her as “one of the most powerful black women in America.” She accomplished so much during her tenure, that the NEA delegates amended their constitution so Futrell could serve three terms, a total of six years. She stepped down in 1989, and in 1992, she became the associate director of the Center for the Study of Education and National Development at her alma mater, George Washington University while earning her PhD at that institution.
Futrell was named Dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at the University in 1995, a position she held until 2010. She founded Education International, and was the first president of the organization. Futrell later took undergraduate classes at various institutions, and holds more than twenty honorary degrees. She has published numerous articles and journals in numerous quarterlies on education reform and policies, and has received dozens of awards to include the prestigious James Kelly Award from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, on November 6, 2020. She serves as Professor Emerita for Education Policy at George Washington University.