22 Aug Biddy Mason: Celebrating The Life & Legacy of A Entrepreneur and Philanthropist
Biddy Mason was an extraordinary African American woman who overcame immense adversity and impacted American history. Born into slavery, she defied the odds and became a prominent figure and landowner in Los Angeles during the 19th century. And last Tuesday, August 15, First A.M.E., the church she co-founded and financed celebrated her life and legacy with its Second Annual Birthday Memorial. The event included a wreath-laying ceremony at her gravesite at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.
“We gather today, at this gravesite, a symbolic end of the journey for a phenomenal woman, Bridget “Biddy” Masson–a heroine of freedom and a single institution of human courage,” said Robert Knight as the event started. “Thousands benefitted from her anointed and non-traditional medical skills, grate numbers of families and individuals were comforted by her hospitality. The community of Los Angeles was furthered by the wealth she amassed and the spirit of philanthropy she engendered.”
Mason was born into slavery in Mississippi in 1818. She was forcibly moved to California during the Gold Rush, walking 1,700 miles. California, however, was a free state. Biddy and her children successfully petitioned for their freedom. This landmark legal case established her as a free woman and set a precedent for future emancipation cases. Once free, she dedicated her life to philanthropy and community activism.
Despite facing racial discrimination and limited opportunities, she worked as a nurse and midwife, providing medical care to the growing Los Angeles community. Biddy also established the first elementary school for African American children in Los Angeles and was a founding member of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Mason’s entrepreneurial spirit led her to invest in real estate, which proved to be a wise decision. She created a homestead in what is Downtown L.A. today, as well as a daycare center for working parents. She amassed considerable wealth through her property investments and became one of the wealthiest African American women in Los Angeles during her time. Her fortune was worth $7.5 million today.
Her financial success allowed her to support charitable causes and assist those in need. Biddy Mason was quoted as saying, “If you hold your hand closed, nothing good can come in. The open hand is blessed, for it gives abundance even as it receives.”
Biddy’s legacy is significant for several reasons. Her fight for freedom and subsequent success as a businesswoman challenged the prevailing stereotypes and limitations placed on African Americans during that era. She became a doctor’s assistant and ran a midwifing business. And she used her wealth and influence to uplift her community, providing support to the poor, homeless, and sick.
Her journey from slavery to becoming a successful entrepreneur, philanthropist, and community leader is a testament to her strength, resilience, and unwavering commitment to social change. Her impact on Los Angeles and the African American community cannot be overstated. Her story is a powerful reminder of the enduring legacy of those who have fought against injustice and inequality.
Her remarkable life continues to inspire generations, highlighting the importance of recognizing and celebrating the contributions of historically marginalized individuals in shaping our society. Her contributions to education, healthcare, and community development continue to resonate today. And her story serves as an inspiration for resilience, determination, and the pursuit of justice.
Biddy Mason’s legacy reminds us of the importance of fighting for equality, empowering marginalized communities, and positively impacting society. She died in 1891 and was survived by her three daughters.