Biddy Mason

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Bridget "Biddy" Mason (August 15, 1818, in Hancock County, Georgia – January 15, 1891, in Los Angeles, California) was an African-American nurse and a Californian real-estate entrepreneur and philanthropist. An exhibit detailing these events can be seen at the Women's Museum of California in San Diego.

Born Bridget
Hancock County, Georgia
Died Los Angeles, California
Nationality Black
Other names Biddy Mason
Occupation Mid-wife, California real Estate entrepreneur
Known for Philanthropy, Founding the Los Angeles First A.M.E. Church in Los Angeles, California real-estate entrepreneur

Early life[edit]

Biddy Mason was born as a slave in Georgia on August 15, 1818, and given the name of "Bridget" with no surname. She was given to Robert Smith and his bride as a wedding present. After the marriage, Smith took his new wife and slaves to Mississippi.

Missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) proselytized in Mississippi. They taught Smith and his wealthy family and they converted. Slaves were not baptized in the church as a matter of policy. Members were encouraged to free their slaves, but Smith chose not to do so.

Moving west[edit]

The Smith household joined a group of other church members from Mississippi to meet the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1847. The group traveled to Pueblo, Colorado, and joined up with the sick detachment from the Mormon Battalion.[1] They later joined the main body of Mormons crossing the plains and settled in the Salt Lake Valley, Utah Territory.

Church leader Brigham Young sent a group of Mormons to Southern California in 1851. Robert Smith, family and slaves joined them in San Bernardino, California, sometime later. Young counseled Smith again to free Bridget and his other slaves before going to California. Bridget was among a small group of blacks, free and slave, in the San Bernardino settlement.


In 1856, Robert Smith, Mason's owner, planned to move to the slave state of Texas. As part of the Compromise of 1850, California was a free state and any slave brought into the state was free. However, Smith had refused Church leaders' counsel to set his slaves free and maintained that Bridget and her children were his property. He planned to take them with him overland to Texas.

Bridget, helped by friends, attempted to escape from Smith. She and a group of Smith's other slaves traveled towards Los Angeles before Smith caught up with them. A local posse caught up with Smith before he could leave the state.

Bridget petitioned a Los Angeles court for her freedom. A California judge, Benjamin Ignatius Hayes, granted her freedom as a resident of a free state,[2] as well as the freedom of the other slaves held captive by Smith (Bridget's three daughters, and ten other African-American women and children). In 1860, Mason received a certified copy of the document that guaranteed her freedom.[3]

Bridget had no legal last name as a slave. After emancipation, she chose to be known as Bridget Mason. Mason was the middle name of Amasa Lyman, Mormon Apostle and mayor of San Bernardino. Biddy had spent many years in the company of the Amasa Lyman household.

Los Angeles[edit]

Mason worked in Los Angeles as a nurse and midwife. One of her employers was the noted physician John Strother Griffin. Saving carefully, she was one of the first African Americans to purchase land in the city. As a businesswoman she amassed a small fortune of nearly $300,000, which she shared generously with charities. Biddy also fed and sheltered the poor, and visited prisoners. She was instrumental in founding a traveler's aid center, and an elementary school for black children. Because of her kind and giving spirit, many called her "Auntie Mason" or "Grandma Mason".

In 1872 Mason was a founding member of First African Methodist Episcopal Church, the city's first black church. The organizing meetings were held in her home on Spring Street. She donated the land on which the church was built.

She spoke fluent Spanish and was a well-known figure downtown, especially at the old plaza, where she conducted business. She dined on occasion at the home of Pio Pico, the last governor of Alta California and a wealthy Los Angeles land owner.[4]

Mason is an honoree in the California Social Work Hall of Distinction. She is also celebrated on Biddy Mason Day on November 16.

In her honor, the Biddy Mason Park has been established on South Spring Street in Los Angeles, California.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "The Forgotten Pioneers". Part In Norma B. Ricketts, Crossroads, Vol. 8, No. 2 & 3 (Spring/Summer 1997).
  2. ^ Mason v. Smith. "The Bridget 'Biddy' Mason Case" (1856).
  3. ^ Reiter, Joan S. (1978), The Old West: The Women, p. 213. Time-Life Books.
  4. ^


  • Bolden, Tonya. (1996). The Book of African-American Women: 150 Crusaders, Creators, and Uplifters, Adams Media Corporation
  • Mungen, Donna. (1976). The Life and Times of Biddy Mason
  • Reiter, Joan S. (1978). The Old West: The Women. Time-Life Books.
  • Sherr, Lynn and Jurate Kazickas. (1994). Susan B. Anthony Slept Here. A Guide to American Women's Landmarks, Random House.
  • Sims, Oscar L. "Profile of Biddy Mason." (1993). Epic Lives: One Hundred Black Women Who Made a Difference, Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. Visible Ink Press
  • Cohen, Hannah S. Harris, Gloria G. Women Trailblazers of California: Pioneers to the Present

External links[edit]