Biddy was born into enslavement in Georgia and forcibly relocated to Southern California in the early 1850s. After winning her freedom in 1856, Biddy pursued a career in medicine and steadily built her wealth through real estate investments in a budding Los Angeles. She became a renowned philanthropist, co-founded the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, and continuously invested in the Black community. Today, Biddy is considered the “Grandmother of Los Angeles,” and her story has started to gain wider recognition.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month on the heels of Black History Month, I would like to honor Biddy Mason’s legacy, not only as one of our region’s first philanthropists but also as a Black woman who overcame unimaginable prejudice and inequity in 19th century America. In many ways, Biddy modeled a giving practice that is still relevant today: one centered and led by communities most impacted by injustice. However, the lives and contributions of Black women — and women of intersectional identities more broadly — are often forgotten or actively erased from our nation’s history. Women have always been at the forefront of movements advancing our communities, culture, and policies in more equitable directions. As our sector recognizes Women’s History Month, we’d be remiss not to remember and learn from women like Biddy Mason, who advocated for her community even as she navigated multiple levels of oppression.
I believe gender justice is a critical lens to apply to our systems change work. As Bia Viera, Chief Strategist at the Women’s Foundation of California, defines in our spotlight of the Culture Change Fund, “gender justice is a framework used to bring about the fair and equitable treatment of people of all genders, and that aims to provide them with the resources they need to achieve joy, justice, and dignity.” This month, we would like to elevate the efforts and voices of people advancing gender justice in our network through various focus areas, including narrative change, impact investing, and climate change efforts. We hope that this month, you celebrate the legacies of women historically excluded from our collective history and join one of the many initiatives to advance gender justice in our culture.