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Thursday
Feb242005

Inspirational Women: Biddy Mason

Bridget "Biddy" Mason

Biddy Mason.jpg

 

 

 

 

"If you hold your hand closed, nothing good can come in.  The open hand is blessed, for it gives in abundance, even as it receives."

Biddy Mason.

Entrepreneur, Philanthropist,  and Grumpy Mama

1818 - 1891

In commemoration of February being Black History month, below is a brief tribute to a remarkable female pioneer who lived in the Los Angeles of the 1800's.

This woman, known originally only as "Bridget", was born into bondage in the antebellum South.  In 1848 she walked to Utah with her master, Robert Smith, who had converted to Mormonism. During this 2,000 mile trek Bridget cooked, herded cattle, and carried the youngest of her 3 daughters on her back as she followed behind the wagon train.

In 1851 Smith  left Utah taking Bridget and several other slaves to San Bernardino, California. The household resided in San Bernardino until 1855.  Then Smith discovered that unless he wanted to emancipate his slaves, he  needed to relocate to a state where slavery was legally acceptable. Smith elected to move to Texas in order to keep his slaves.

At this point, with the help of  friends, Bridget was able to sue for her  own liberty and that of Robert Smith's other slaves. In this landmark California civil rights case, the judge agreed with the plaintiffs. Bridget was set free and remained in the Golden State for the remainder of her life.  With freedom came a name change, she adopted the last name of "Mason," and was known throughout the remainder of her life as "Biddy Mason"--"Biddy"  being a shortened form of "Bridget."

In 1856 Biddy Mason moved to Los Angeles and began working as a nurse and midwife.  With money saved from her earnings she began investing in real estate and amassed a personal fortune. 

This self-made, prosperous business woman became a well-known community leader due to her intelligence, generosity and hard work.

Throughout her life, Mason made donations to people and organizations in need.  One of her acts of charity is especially pertinent to current events.  The amount in rainfall in Los Angeles in 1884 set a record that remains unbroken to this day - 38.18 inches [so far in the 2005-2006 period it has rained 34.36 inches].  In response to the tragedy,  Biddy instructed a local grocer to provide food to the flood victims who needed it and bill her for the expense. Other noteworthy contributions include: 1)In 1872 Biddy Mason helped organize the city's first African Methodist Episcopal church, and  2)  Biddy ran the city's first child care center - from her home no less.

Biddy was a 37 year-old single mother without a formal education when she launched her journey to personal success.  With her can-do attitude this talented, determined woman proved that no matter what obstacles there are to overcome it's never too late to reach one's full potential. 

If you're in the downtown Los Angeles area, there's a memorial wall  [dedicated in 1989] open to the public at:

Biddy Mason Park
Broadway Spring Center
333 South Spring Street

Stay interesting,
Alma

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