A Celebration of Black American History Month, A Tribute to Black Women Pioneers

Bridget "Biddy" Mason (1818 - 1891)

Installment One

When Mormons traveled through the wilderness, and wildness of the west seeking refuge from persecution and seeking their Zion many freemen and slaves made the journey with them. The first black man to step foot in the Utah territory was Jim Beckwourth trapper, gunslinger, wrangler, guide and mountain man.

Many African American females made the trek with these religious outcasts. One such woman was Bridget "Biddy" Mason, mother, slave, nurse / midwife and entrepreneur.

Born August 15, 1818 on a Mississippi plantation owned by Robert Marion Smith and Rebbecca (Crosby) Smith. While living on this plantation she gave birth to three daughter, Ellen, Ann and Harriet, whose father is believed to be Robert Smith.

In 1847 Robert Smith converted to the Mormon faith and decided to move his family and slaves to Utah. During the two-thousand-mile odyssey  Biddy was responsible for herding the cattle, preparing all meals, midwife duties all the while caring for her own children.

Smith moved his entire household, once again following Brigham Young, leader of the Mormon sect at the time, to San Bernardino California there Young was planning a new Mormon community. Robert Smith was either unaware or didn't care that California had been admitted to the Union in 1850 as a free state, and slavery was forbidden.

In 1856 Bridget Mason petitioned for the freedom of her daughters and herself. In the court room of Judge Benjamin Hayes, Ms. Mason won the battle for her family's freedom and moved to Los Angeles. First employed by Judge Hayes, Robert Owens and a Doctor Griffin as a nurse and midwife. The work was hard, but profitable, her excellent working skills allowed her to become economically comfortable and sound.

Ms. Bridget Mason Entrepreneur

Ten years after gaining her freedom the very frugal ms. mason was able to save $250.00 to buy a home on Spring Street (which now lays in downtown Los Angeles) her children were instructed to never abandon the property.  "Biddy" also earned the distinction of becoming one of the first women of color to own property in Los Angeles county. 

The site is now in the middle of Los Angeles' commercial district.  In 1884 Ms. Mason sold a parcel of the land for $1500.00 then turned around and built a commercial building with rental spaces.  The entrepreneur continued to make solidly wise real estate decision and soon amassed a fortune of almost $300,000.00.


Giving Back

Ms. Bridget Mason was also a generous soul and gave to various charities and provided food, and shelter for the needy of all races. Lines of the poor were often seen forming at 331 South Spring Street. Ms. Mason also visited inmates in jail. In 1872 along with her son in-law Charles Owens, founded and financed the African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the first in Los Angeles.

January 15, 1891 this kind soul passed away and was buried in an unmarked grave at Evergreen cemetery in Boyle Heights in Los Angeles. A century later, on march 27, 1988 a tombstone was unveiled marking her grave in a ceremony presided over by Los Angeles' first black mayor Tom Bradley and three thousand members of the First AME Church.

Biddy Mason Day was declared on November 16, 1989 a memorial was erected to her achievements and unveiled at the Broadway Spring Center in Downtown Los Angeles.

You must admire a person, regardless of sex, who is driven to succeed in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

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Comments 6 comments

pmccray profile image

pmccray 6 years ago from Utah Author

Thank you William and I agree totally. Especially Pioneer women of any race. I can't imagine living in those times with the hardships they faced. They were made of sterner stuff. Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment, have a wonderful evening.

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

I'm glad to see this tribute to a good and wise woman. Women have accomplished much over the centuries, but rarely do they receive any credit. The deserve far more credit than they get, and Biddy Mason is a good example of that.

pmccray profile image

pmccray 6 years ago from Utah Author

RevLady, BKcreative and Micky Dee: thank you all so much for stopping by reading and commenting. I so admire these black pioneers of the past. Beside dealing with blantant racism they were faced with so much adversity, and still they rose to the occasion. So brave, so much tenacity.

Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

Biddy Mason was a true heroine. Thank you very much for writing this and sharing her hard but wonderful life.

BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

We do tend to leave women out of the equation. Women who not only did everything - but also became pregnant and raised families - amazing women. Thanks for the hub!

RevLady profile image

RevLady 6 years ago from Lantana, Florida

A nice recapitulation of an African American shero life and contribution to the community. Thank you!

Forever His,

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