#Black women played an enormous part in the west before and after the Civil War. Many Black women arrived in the new states covered in wagons or walking behind their master’s wagon. According to census records, letters and memoirs thousands of Black women flocked to the area. Some arrived as slaves, others ex-slaves and believe or not, some showed up as mail-order brides. Black pioneer women worked and held down full-time jobs, many of them were receiving very low wages and worked hard labored and domestic jobs. Many of them scrubbed grimed filled kitchens, cooked for White rich families or kept the clothes of miners clean. Regardless of the work and the pay, many of the women held on to their jobs, and some were able to save money and help other family members. Many of the women who arrived in the west went on to become entrepreneurs, innkeepers and well-respected educators.
Mary Ellen “Mammy” Pleasant was one of the women, who worked and saved a substantial amount of her income. She was suspected of helping John Brown fund his raid on Harper’s Ferry. She became known as the “Mother of Civil Rights in California.”
#Biddy Mason is another woman who appeared during the gold rush at 32-years old. She walked behind her master’s 300-wagon caravan from Mississippi to southern California. She acquired her freedom there and invested in real estate. She spent the rest of her time helping others Blacks with money. She quickly became known to many people in the area as Grandmother Mason.
#Clara Brown made the trip to the west as a newly freed slave. She moved into the Colorado gold-mining country in 1859. She had made two vows to herself and that was—to find her children who had been auctioned away 20-years ago and to be able to make enough money to provide for herself. Brown would do people’s laundry. She charged 50 cents for shirt, and she eventually made enough money to buy her own property and travel east. She was able to bring her family back with her and help other families as well. Her house was always open to anyone in need. She established Sunday schools and churches in the towns she worked.
There were many other Black women who helped contribute to the west during the time. Many have had their stories told, while others stories are still unknown.