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  --  1874-1924   Table of Contents     CONTENTS

Brown, Hallie Q.
Homespun heroines


--extract from--

The following will give the reader a short survey of the splendid women of color who have blazed a trail for other women of the race in California. The Native Sons and daughters of California are very proud of the pioneer mother; but for some reason the pioneer Negro mother has received little or no attention from California writers. The Negro Pioneer mother, of all women coming into this state, was truly a trial blazer. There are instances where a few were free, but many came with their masters and drove the cattle and other live stock across the plains into California.

Nevertheless these Negro pioneer mothers, with all the hardships, ever kept burning within their breast a ray of hope for a better day. The writer has been told that very few of the free women of color went astray during the wild days of the gold rush. This is especially remarkable because of the large amount of lawlessness among the men and women of the opposite race. There was no Volstead law, life was held of little value because of the lack of established law and authority. The reader must not lose sight of these facts, and ever remember them when thinking of these women, even those who were free and had been educated in the east previous to coming to California. There were no public libraries, or anything else to entertain them except their self respect and lofty ideals. And yet among this group of women there are some characters

that stand out in bold relief, as the following will show.

During the gold rush there came to San Francisco, California, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Scott, coming across the Isthmus of Panama from New Bedford, Mass. After spending a short time in this city they proceeded to Hangtown, Placer County, where "good diggings" were reported. Both had been well educated, since they were free born people of color. Mrs. Elizabeth Thorn Scott was born in New York City, but educated in New Bedford, Mass., where she was married. After coming to California, and becoming widowed, she decided to move to Sacramento, where she established the first school for colored youth May 29, 1854. This was just one week after the first school was opened for colored youth in San Francisco. Later Mrs. Scott married Mr. Isaac Flood, of Oakland, California. Moving to that city, she soon established the first colored school in Alameda County.

The Board of Education selected Mrs. Priscilla Stewart as teacher of the Broadway School of that city. This lady had been well educated and had taken an active part in every uplift movement for the race in California.

During 1858 there was a bill before the California Legislature to banish from the state all Free Negroes. This lady immediately wrote a poem and personally had it printed and distributed. Her object in so doing was to encourage her own race, to enlist the sympathy of the other race, and to gratefully acknowledge the kindness shown the race by the British government. The ruler of British Columbia, at Vancouver, sent his Harbor Master to San Francisco to invite Free Negroes to come to that country and make their homes. Mrs. Stewart recognized the call as coming from Queen Victoria, then reigning ruler of the British Empire. Queen Victoria, has been quoted as having said she "would not be crowned as Queen if any of the Empire held slaves." Mrs. Stewart named her poem "A Voice from the Oppressed, to the Friends of Humanity," composed by one of the suffering class, Mrs. Priscilla Stewart.


Later we find Mrs. Stewart addressing a group of men who were holding a meeting, the object of which was to recruit a regiment of colored soldiers and offer their services to the United States Government, to help win the War of the Rebellion. Among others she spoke to them on the value of united action. She was a trial blazer in many ways. Her poems have received much praise for their spirit of hope.

There were other pioneer colored women living in San Francisco who did much to keep alive a ray of hope for better days for the race. Among this number must be mentioned Miss Cecilia Williams, a Shakesperian tragedienne. She was free born and had been well educated in New Bedford, Mass. She would train men and women in giving concerts. She wrote splendid poetry, and wrote a poem commemorating the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. It was called "The Glory of the Coming Man." It is truly a masterpiece, a song filled with hope and courage to persevere until the race obtained their full rights. There was Mary Ann Israel Ash, who lived in the mountains, who upon being awakened in the night discovered a band of Negro slaves passing her home on their way to San Francisco to take a steamer back to the southland, to become slaves in a slave state. The master wanted one thousand dollars for their freedom. She mortgaged her home and gave them their freedom.

In speaking of slavery in California, and the colored women who came as slaves, there is none who holds more of interest and inspiration than the life of the late Biddy Mason and her family of three little girls. California was admitted to the Union as a Free State in 1850, and yet this woman, Biddy Mason, and her family were held as slaves in San Bernardino, California, from 1851 to 1854! They came to the state with their master from Hancock County, Georgia, by ox team. There were three hundred covered wagons in this train, and at the end of the train

Biddy Mason drove the live stock across the plains into California.

She also cared for the children of her mistress, and her own three little girls, enroute. It was when the master decided to leave the state with his slaves and go into Texas, where he could still hold them as slaves, that word reached the Sheriff of Los Angeles County who stopped him. The slaves and their master were taken into court; later the court gave them their freedom. After their free papers were duly recorded Biddy Mason secured work as a confinement nurse. It was then that she made a solemn vow to God that she would save her money and purchase a home for her children.

The Los Angeles Daily Times published a Lincoln Edition of their paper February 12, 1909. This issue was most remarkable because it gave the history of the colored people then living in that city. The Negro women were given a full page, which was edited by the late Mrs. Kate Bradley Stovall. In speaking of Biddy Mason, among others things she said, "Following the occupation of nurse Mrs. Mason accumulated sufficient means to buy a share in a large lot in what was then represented as the "Map of the Plains"; later, through her business tact, she purchased the remaining interest in the property, and secured for herself and children a clear title to the land. With surprising rapidity she acquired other property, but often said, "This first homestead must never be sold." And now in the center of the commercial district of Los Angeles, on this very old homestead, stands the Owen's block, owned and controlled by her heirs. Biddy Mason was well known throughout Los Angeles County for her charitable work. She was a frequent visitor to the jails, speaking a word of cheer and leaving some token and a prayerful hope with every prisoner. In the slums of the city she was known as "Grandma Mason" and did much active service toward uplifting the worse element in Los Angeles. She paid the taxes and all expenses on a church property to hold it for

her people. During the flood of the early eighties she gave an order to a little grocery store which was located at Fourth and Spring streets. By the terms of this order, all families made homeless by the flood, were to be supplied with groceries, and Biddy Mason cheerfully paid the bills.

Her home at 331 South Spring St., in later years became a refuge for stranded and needy settlers. As she grew more feeble it became necessary for her grandson to stand at the gate each morning and turn away the line which had formed awaiting her assistance. At the age of seventy-three Biddy Mason passed to her reward, leaving to her surviving daughters, Ellen and Harriet, and to her two grandsons, Robert and Henry Owens, the nucleus of a vast estate."

Mrs. Stovall has given a splendid summary of the life of this grand trail blazer of California pioneer women. The reader must not lose sight of the fact that Biddy Mason was born a slave on the plantation of Robert Smith, in Hancock County, Georgia, August 15, 1818; and as a slave was denied the privileges of acquiring an education, and yet at her death, which occurred June 5, 1891, she was rated a millionaire! She taught her children and grand-children the value of money and property holdings until, you will find, at this late date, 1924, her fortune in a large measure has been retained by her heirs in the city of Los Angeles. This city has produced many colored women who have been of great service to the race. Among this number was a Mrs. Sessions, whom the writer has been told was greatly responsible for the organization of the club that built the "Sojourner Thruth Home" for working girls in that city. A most interesting account of this lady has been given by the late Mrs. Stovall, in the edition of the Los Angeles Daily Times previously mentioned. Among other things she has said, "Mrs. Lucy Sessions of Los Angeles, held the first diploma received by a Negro woman in America, graduating from Oberlin College in 1850. Mrs. Sessions'

eyes grew dim with tears as she told of being driven from every public school in Toledo, Ohio, on account of her color; and of her struggles to please at each succeeding school. Then forcing a smile, she said: "But never, my dear, did a teacher send me home; it was only the visitors that did not know me, who objected to my presence." When she returned broken hearted from the last school in the city, her mother assured her that she should have an education. With the assistance of friends Mrs. Sessions was finally taken into Oberlin College, on trial, as she was too young to be admitted. Her record was such that she readily gained permission to continue her studies. After her graduation she taught school in the south during reconstruction days. She died February 18, 1910, in the city of Los Angeles, California.

No doubt the reader would like to know something concerning the late Mrs. Kate Bradley-Stovall, who has furnished such splendid accounts of so many pioneer women of California; the following account of her funeral, as it appeared in the "New Age Weekly":--"She was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Allen Bradley of Austin, Texas, born August 4, 1884, and at a very early age came to Los Angeles and was reared and educated in that city by her aunt Kate." Continuing it said, "Carefully this aunt trained her for womanhood, and with loving interest watched and encouraged the progress she made in her educational work. Upon graduation in 1903 from the Commercial High School, on account of her excellent record she was commented upon in the Los Angeles Times , and among other things said; "Colored lass eloquent, Commercial High School striking oration. The four orators to represent the graduating class of the Commercial High School...it was a distinguished honor the class conferred upon itself by its magnanimous action. Kate Bradley, in the execution of her trust did it with distinguished honor to herself and the class. She is a tall, lithe, good featured colored girl; her oration eloquent, concise and

strong. Her topic, "The New South," was one that enlisted her sympathy and brought out the warmth of her nature toward her race, though no mention was made of any race. Miss Bradley talked warmly of the progress in the South and its rapid strides toward a place of greater importance in the commercial world. "This progress, she said, may well be termed wonderful, for it did not begin with the Constitution of the United States." This sentence brought the first applause, and it was the nearest reference she made to the problem. Her summary of the industrial progress and coming commercial importance of the New South was worthy of a statesman, both in subject matter and manner of delivery." "Miss Bradley received no bouquets as she stepped back to her place but the audience perceiving the probable thoughtless omission, redoubled its applause, and no more fragrant nor complimentary bouquet could have been tendered her, in the numberless mass of bouquets that banked the stage. No doubt there were a goodly number for her as well as for the other graduates.."

On November 1, 1904, Kate Bradley became the wife of William Stovall, a young man of excellent family and sterling worth, who has proven to the community his high qualities in the way he has stood up under the strain of illness and affliction. Two especially bright children, Wilalyn, and Ursula, brightened the union of these young people. Mrs. Stovall became a factor in race progress in Los Angeles, being intensely interested in fraternal, religious, and secular affairs. Her first thought was always toward the work of educational uplift among her people, and especially did she wish to inspire hope and enthusiasm in the minds of the young. Working on this line and acting upon the suggestion of her husband, she organized the "Southern California Alumni Association" in 1909, and served that body as its president for four years, until forced by ill health to resign. At the time of her death she was president emeritus of the organization, and her thoughts

and hopes were always for its progress. She died at the age of thirty years.


Dr. Sarah G. Jones was born in Virginia soon after the close of the Civil War. She attended the public schools of Richmond, Va., and graduated from the Richmond Normal School. For a number of years she was a teacher in the public schools of her native city. She resigned her position as teacher to enter Howard University, Washington, D. C., to study medicine. After pursuing her studies there for a number of years she received her degree and was the first woman to pass the Virginia Board to practice medicine. She founded the Richmond Hospital and Training School for Nurses. Together with her husband Dr. Miles B. Jones, she enjoyed a most lucreative practice for many years. At her death a few years ago she was still the only colored woman to be practicing medicine in the state of Virginia.

Mrs. Sarah G. Jones
Present Poet Laureate
Ohio Federation of Colored Women's Clubs


Miss Marietta Chiles for 46 years a teacher in the public schools of Richmond was a woman of lovable qualities. Her father was a messenger in the state capitol during the Civil War and carried the message to Jefferson Davis that Gen. Grant was near Richmond. This splendid woman served for a number of years as the Grand Secretary of the Grand Court of Calanthe and died as the honored and respected incumbent of that office. She was active in all efforts of uplift among her people.


Mrs. Eliza P. Fox was for more than a quarter of a

century the President of The Woman's Baptist Association of Virginia. As the wife of a Baptist minister she knew what hard work meant and together with her husband she was active in every Christian organization. After his death she still maintained her interest in Christian work. The Convention of which she was President raised thousands of dollars for missions and education and to perpetuate her memory they erected a splendid stone building at the Virginia Theological Seminary and College, Lynchburg, Va., and called it the Eliza P. Fox building. Although not a woman of superior educational attainments Mrs. Fox was a splendid type of the consecrated Christian worker, a mother in Israel whose many daughters call her blessed to this day.

  --  1874-1924   Table of Contents     CONTENTS