Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Madame CJ Walker—the list of women typically mentioned during Black History Month is incredibly short. But this year, CLUTCH will celebrate the achievements of Black women you may not have ever heard about.
First up: Bridget “Biddy” Mason.
Bridget “Biddy” Mason was born on August 15, 1818 in Georgia. Mason was born into slavery and before her death in 1891 she become one of Los Angeles’ wealthiest Black residents and philanthropists.
After working on a plantation in Mississippi owned by Robert Marion Smith, Mason migrated to Utah with the Smiths, who had converted to Mormonism. During the grueling two-thousand-mile journey, Mason herded cattle, prepared meals, and worked as a nurse and midwife. In 1851, Smith moved his brood, including his enslaved servants, to San Bernardino, California.
California was admitted to the Union as a free state in 1850 and forbade slavery, because of this, Smith planned to relocate to Texas to continue holding slaves. However, in 1856 Mason petitioned the court and sued Smith for her freedom. She won her case, securing not only her freedom, but also that of her daughters, as well as 10 other Black women and their children.
After winning her freedom, Mason moved to Los Angeles and worked as a nurse and midwife. She saved her money and in 1866, just 10 years after securing her freedom, Mason bought a site near Broadway and Spring Street for $250, making her one of the first Black women to own land in L.A.
Mason later sold a parcel of the land for $1500 and built a commercial building that she rented out to several others. Through several business ventures and real estate transactions, Mason was able to amass a fortune of nearly $300,000, making her one of the city’s wealthiest Black residents.
In addition to her business dealings, Mason was a generous philanthropist. She was a founding member of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1872, the city’s first Black church, and she often gave to charities that worked to feed and clothe the poor.
Biddy Mason died on January 15, 1891 and was buried in an unmarked grave at Evergreen Cemetery in the Boyle Heights. In 1988, a tombstone was erected and Mayor Tom Bradley (L.A.’s first and only Black mayor) declared November 16, 1989 as Biddy Mason Day.