"Biddy Mason's Place: A Passage of Time"
Betye Saar, Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, and The Power of Place, 1989
A memorial in downtown Los Angeles, situated between Broadway and Spring streets at 3rd street (Biddy Mason Park). It is dedicated to Biddy Mason, a Black midwife, who was a leading citizen of Los Angeles, and lived at 331 Spring Street from 1866-1891. The mural includes inscriptions, images of deeds and maps, and a photograph of Biddy Mason. This is a project of The Power of Place, a non-profit corporation dedicated to celebrating Los Angeles's multicultural history. Members include: Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Donna Graves, Dolores Hayden, Susan King, and Betye Saar. Do not reproduce information from this site without acknowledgement of the artists and their works, or of the authors of this site.
Below is the text from the memorial with links to images. The terms "here" and "this street" refer to the area around today's Spring, 4th, and 7th streets
- 1781 - Forty Four settlers from Mexico establish the pueblo of Los Angeles - 26 have African ancestors.
- 1810s - Biddy Mason born a slave. Detail of the map of the pueblo.
- 1821 - The Plaza Church is dedicated in Los Angeles, now part of the newly independent Mexican nation.
- 1836 - 18 year old Biddy and her sister Hannah become the property of Robert Smith, a plantation owner in Logtown, Mississippi.
Biddy Mason learns midwifery
- 1849 - The United States sends Lieutenant Ord to Survey Los Angeles and he names this street Calle Primavera, after his sweetheart. Detail of the Ord survey.
- 1856 - Smith transports slaves to California, a free state, where Judge Hayes declares Biddy Mason's family entitled to freedom and free forever.
Biddy Mason walks to California behind a wagon train
Biddy Mason wins freedom in court
- 1866 - From 10 years' wages Biddy saves $250 to buy this homestead lots 3 and 8, Block 7 of the Ord Survey, a bit out of town, amid gardens and groves.
Biddy Mason owns land. Detail of the deed of land.
- 1872 - Biddy calls a meeting here in her home to organize the Los Angeles First African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Biddy Mason delivers hundreds of babies
Drawing of Los Angeles from the 1870s, as if seen from the air.
- 1880-1890 - Biddy nurses the sick, comforts prisoners, and pays a grocery at 4th and Spring streets to feed all the families made homeless by seasonal floods.
- 1885 - Robert and Henry Owens, Biddy's grandsons, start a livery stable here on part of her homestead when Los Angeles is booming. Detail of the Spring Street subdivision.
- 1890 - Spring street between 4th and 7th is the financial center of Los Angeles, a city of over 50,000, including 1258 blacks.
- 1891 - Biddy Mason dies.
Los Angeles mourns and reveres Grandma Mason
Drawing of Los Angeles from the 1890s, as if seen from the air.
Detail of Biddy Mason's portrait.
- Betye Saar, Biddy Mason's House of the Open Hand, 1990.
Back to Public Art in the Bradbury Building Area, Los Angeles Historic Core
Photographs taken by Ruth Wallach, USC Libraries.
1/1998. Updated 3/2004