Important Women in California History

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As with many Western States, the Gold Rush brought people to California in large numbers, opening up a whole new opportunity for women to shine.

Whether born into privilege or slavery, these women represent a sampling of the accomplishments achieved by California women.

First Lady Maria Shriver (b.1955)

There isn’t a California Women’s Hall of Fame yet, but First Lady Maria Shriver has made strides in bringing the lives of historic California women to the forefront. She has been quoted as wanting “women’s accomplishments to get due recognition” and was instrumental in creating the California Remarkable Women’s Exhibit in The California Museum.

The First Lady is one of those remarkable women herself, with tireless efforts in many areas of social welfare.

Julia Morgan (1872-1957)

As California’s first female architect, she was one of the first women to attend UC Berkeley as a civil engineering student. From there she became the first woman to attend the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Over the course of her career, she designed over seven hundred buildings. Morgan was known to climb around the construction sites – in dresses – to supervise the building of her designs.

Bridget “Biddy” Mason (1818-1891)

Mason was born into slavery and given no formal education. She learned about midwifery and herbal remedies from other slave women and grew into quite a reputable mid-wife. The family she worked for eventually made their way to California. By that time, slavery was against the law in California, but the law turned a blind eye on slave owners, rarely punishing them or freeing the slaves who worked for them.

Mason’s daughter was dating a free African American man and it was through this connection that she gained her freedom.

Mason didn’t waste any time. According to Women in History, she worked as a mid-wife and later with a Los Angeles doctor. Living frugally, she was able to save enough money to purchase a home – one of the first African American women to own land in Los Angeles. Mason continued to purchase and sell land until she built up a small fortune.

Mason gave generously to charities, and was a founding member of the first African American church in Los Angeles – First African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Mary Ellen Pleasant (1814-1904)

Abolitionist, businesswoman and entrepreneur, Pleasant won several civil rights court battles, earning her the title, “The Mother of Human Rights in California.”

Della Haskett Rawson (1861-1949)

Rawson was the first (perhaps only) woman to carry the U.S. mail as a stagecoach driver. Her father was the agent for the Wells Fargo stage line and when one of his regular drivers became ill, she was given the chance to take over. She became a regular backup driver.