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VICTORIAN WOMEN OF COLOR
A Rare View

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These are selections of wonderful and very intact photographs taken during the Victorian Era, mainly from the years 1860 to 1901. Photos of Women of Color from this era are hard to come by, especially "family" photographs. Sadly these beautiful and touching images go unnamed. A couple of these photos were taken when there was still slavery in the United States. We are honored to present these images as part of our dedication to the photographic history of our country. - Don Noyes-More Ph.D.,Editor inChief.

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"Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house?  The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all: walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or steadily, half hopelessly, watch the streak of blue above." 
 - W. E. B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk.

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Downtown's Biddy

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Bridget "Biddy" Mason 


    (August 151818 in Hancock County, Georgia – January 151891 in Los Angeles, California) was an African American nurse, and a California real estate entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Born a slave in Georgia. Bridget was given to Robert Smith and his bride as 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) proselyted Mississippi. They taught Smith and his family. The family converted. Slaves were not baptized into the Church as a matter of policy. Members were encouraged to free their slaves. Smith chose not to.

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 Saints to Southern California in 1851. Robert Smith, family and slaves joined them in San BernardinoCalifornia sometime later. Brigham 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, when Smith was planning to move to the slave state of 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.

Mason petitioned a Los Angeles court for her freedom. A California judge, Benjamin Hayes, granted her freedom as a resident of a free state, as well as the freedom of the other slaves held captive by Smith (her three daughters, and ten other African-American women and children).

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. She had spent many years in the company of the Amasa Lyman household.

Mason worked in Los Angeles as a nurse and midwife. 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. She was instrumental in founding a traveler's aid center, an elementary school for black children, and was a founding member of First African Methodist Episcopal Church, the city's first and oldest black church.

Mason is an honoree in the California Social Work Hall of Distinction.


OUR THANKS TO:

Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C
Duke University, North Carolina
Yale University, Conn.

Omega418's Collection 

Texas African American Photography Archive 

New York Public Library, New York, New York
Our Story for Us, Private Publication
Los Angeles Public Library, Los Angeles, California
Wikipedia



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C. 1883

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