In the spring of 2013, Laura Voisin George was in the reading room at the Huntington library when she came across a historical detail that struck her as … unusual.
At the time, Laura was a PhD candidate studying one of California's first surgeons. While perusing a series of articles, she discovered the existence of 10 massive murals — built into a lecture hall at U.C. San Francisco's medical school — that told the history of California medicine in a colorful, elaborate, and explicit social realism style. Laura scanned a photo of one of those murals, the one depicting the mid 1800s, and was surprised to see a Black nurse, a woman working side by side with one of the leading doctors of Los Angeles (and a former slave owner to boot). In the 1800s.
Laura wanted to know more, so she started digging. Soon, she found this nurse's name: Biddy Mason. Then, she found so much more.
This season, we are dedicating two full episodes to telling the remarkable story of Biddy Mason. In Part 1, we talk about Biddy’s beginnings: how she went from an enslaved woman in Mississippi to one of the most renowned healers in Los Angeles. We also talk to a group of organizers and historians from the Biddy Mason Collaborative (or ‘the Biddy Mason Justice League’ as we like to call them) who are collaborating and uncovering more about this woman than we ever knew before — and working hard to keep her memory alive.
If you like this episode, make sure to stay tuned for Part 2, when we tell the second half of Biddy’s life: her journey to becoming one the wealthiest women in the West — and a founder of Black Los Angeles.
Our Guests: This episode we speak with folks from the Biddy Mason Collaborative: project co-directors Sarah “Sally” Barringer Gordon, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Kevin Waite, an American history professor at Durham University (and author ofWest of Slavery); as well as Jackie Broxton, Executive Director of the Biddy Mason Charitable Foundation and Laura Voisin George, an architectural historian (and PhD candidate at UCSB).
About Us: Urban Roots is a podcast that takes a deep dive into little known stories from urban history. It is an offshoot of Urbanist Media, a not-for-profit anti-racist community preservation collaborative.
Credits: Hosts and Executive Producers: Deqah Hussein-Wetzel and Vanessa Maria Quirk / Editor and Executive Producer: Connor Lynch / Mixer: Andrew Callaway. Music/Composer: Adaam James Levin-Areddy.
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