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Who is Biddy Mason?

From Enslavement to Entrepreneur

Bridget “Biddy” Mason was born into slavery in the Deep South in 1818. In 1847, her owner Robert Smith forced Biddy and many other enslaved people to walk hundreds of miles west from Mississippi to Utah and ultimately on to Los Angeles. Although California was a free state, Smith ignored the law and continued with his illegal slaveholding.

After years toiling in LA, Biddy made the brave decision to sue for her freedom. In 1856, she and 12 other enslaved people—including Biddy’s daughters—were emancipated in one of the largest freedom suits in American history.

Now free, Biddy leveraged her training as a midwife and herbal healer to build a career for herself, becoming an essential medical resource to the community. After a decade of saving, she purchased her first property at First and Spring Street in what is now Downtown Los Angeles. 

She soon acquired property all over the city, making her one of the first Black landowners and real estate moguls in LA. In 1872, she became the only woman to help co-found the First African Methodist Episcopal (FAME) Church, LA’s oldest Black-founded church that continues to thrive today.

Perhaps more impressive than her business acumen was Biddy’s humanitarianism. She became known as “The Grandmother of Los Angeles,” using her resources to feed the homeless, care for the sick, and support orphaned, impoverished, and incarcerated individuals around the city.

When Biddy Mason died in 1891, her holdings were valued at $300,000—making her the equivalent of a multimillionaire today. She continues to shine as a luminary of American history for her resiliency and selfless pursuit of human betterment.

"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."
– Bridget "Biddy" Mason


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