Each year in mid July I am reminded of several important women in history. The Episcopal church has a calendar called- Holy Women and Holy Men. Days are filled with people both religious and secular who have made important contributions through their life and witness.
Throughout the year this calendar leads one through a journey both historic and spiritual. Several days in mid July are filled with women, such as Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and Mary Magdalene. All of whom made important contributions to our faith traditions and the work of social justice.
This calendar helps to remind me to honor these amazing women. Women of courage and compassion. Their examples have encouraged me to seek out other women who may not be listed on this calendar but certainly have an important place in history’s story.
As we rest in the middle of this Summer month, July- I am once again reminded of the women listed in the Episcopal calendar and others I have met along the way, such as Biddy Bridget Mason.
Below is an amazing story of a woman filled with strength and determination. Wise and compassionate, I introduce you to Biddy Mason…
Biddy Bridget Mason (1815-1891) was born into slavery and given as a wedding gift to a Mormon couple in Mississippi named Robert and Rebecca Smith. In 1847 at age 32, Biddy Mason was forced to walk from Mississippi to Utah tending cattle behind her master’s 300-wagon caravan.
After four years in Salt Lake City, Smith took the group to a new Mormon settlement in San Bernardino, California in search of gold. Biddy Mason soon discovered that the California State Constitution made slavery illegal, and that her master planned to move them all to Texas to avoid freeing them. With the help of some free blacks she had befriended, she and the other slaves attempted to run away to Los Angeles, but they were intercepted by Smith and brought back. However, when he tried to leave the state with his family and slaves, a local posse prevented his flight. Biddy had Robert Smith brought into court on a writ of habeas corpus. She, her daughters, and the ten other slaves were held in jail for their own safety until the judge heard the case and granted their freedom.
Now free, Mason and her three daughters moved to Los Angeles where they worked and saved enough money to buy a house at 331 Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles. Biddy was employed as a nurse, midwife, and domestic servant. She was one of the first black women to own land in the city of Los Angeles. She had the gumption to use part of her land as a temporary resting place for horses and carriages, and people visiting town paid money in exchange for the space. This can be considered the first “parking lot” in Los Angeles!
Knowing what it meant to be oppressed and friendless, Biddy Mason immediately began a philanthropic career by opening her home to the poor, hungry, and homeless. Through hard work, saving, and investing carefully, she was able to purchase large amounts of real estate including a commercial building, which provided her with enough income to help build schools, hospitals, and churches. Her financial fortunes continued to increase until she accumulated a fortune of almost $300,000. In today’s money, that would be $6M. Her most noted accomplishment is the founding of the First AME Church in California.