Biddy Mason, 1818-1891
Bridget “Biddy” Mason was born into slavery in Georgia She learned herbal medicine, midwifery and agricultural skills from other female slaves, and cared for the plantation owners, slaves, and livestock.
In 1848 the owners and their slaves moved to Salt Lake City. The journey was grueling; Mason walked over 1700 miles carrying her newborn daughter on her back and driving the cattle. In 1851 they moved to California. Once there, by the Compromise of 1850, the slaves should have been freed. The California constitution stated that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude unless for the punishment of crimes shall ever be tolerated in this state”. Nevertheless she continued to be enslaved. It took further legal action to free her and her family in 1856.
As a free woman, Mason continued as a midwife and nurse. She saved her money and bought her first property in 1866 in Los Angeles, and worked as a midwife side by side with a white doctor. As her fortune grew, she shared generously with charities, including using her wealth to establish a daycare center for working parents and an elementary school for Black children, and to feed and shelter the poor. She also co-founded and financed the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles in 1872. At her death she was one of the wealthiest women in Los Angeles.
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