Catalysts of Change: Black Women Making History

Catalysts of Change: Black Women Making History

Liza Semenova
9 minute read

In honor of Black History Month, we are spotlighting some incredible black women that inspire us every day. From those who lived before us, to those just getting started, each woman has made a powerful impact and has been bold enough to carve her own path.


Bridget, or Biddy, Mason was born on August 15, 1818 on a plantation in Hancock, Georgia. After being separated from her parents, she spent much of her childhood enslaved on John Smithson's plantation in South Carolina. In 1836, Smithson gave Biddy to his cousins, the Smiths. Robert Smith and his wife had a plantation in Mississippi where Biddy became a well regarded mid-wife and gave birth to three daughters, all presumably the children of Robert Smith.

After being converted to Mormonism by missionaries, Smith moved his family and slaves to San Bernadino, California to establish a Mormon community. However the laws in California were different, and stated that any slave brought into the state was automatically free. When Smith attempted to relocate his family and slaves to Texas, he was stopped short by businessman Robert Owns. Owens filed a petition claiming that Smith was illegally holding slaves, and the case was heard by the U.S District Court of Appeals. 

On January 21, 1856, Biddy, her daughters and others enslaved by Smith were officially granted their freedom. Biddy moved to Los Angeles and began working as a nurse and midwife, gaining a reputation for her herbal remedies. Biddy saved diligently for ten years to buy property, becoming one of the first African American women to own property in Los Angeles. She continued to buy, develop and rent property over the coming years, eventually becoming the most affluent black woman in Los Angeles. She was generous with her wealth, making donations, sheltering and feeding the poor, visiting prisoners, and assisted in the founding of a traveler's aid center and elementary school for black children. Biddy Mason died January 15, 1891 in Los Angeles at the age of 73 but her legacy is forever remembered amongst the citizens of Los Angeles.

Source: Women In History 

Could we ever say enough about style icon, role model, literal model, award-winning actress, inspirational speaker, entrepreneur, producer, director, and activist Tracee Ellis Ross? Probably not, but we'll do our best. Daughter of the iconic Diana Ross, Tracee Ellis Ross is best known for her acting roles. Starring on Girlfriends, she received two NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Actress, and Black-ish, where her work earned her three NAACP Image Awards, as well as a Golden Globe for Best Actress. In 2016, Ross was the first black woman in 30 years to be nominated for for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 30 years - talk about making history!

Inn 2018, Ellis Ross founded Pattern Beauty, a line of hair products dedicated to curly, coily & tight-textured hair. Pattern Beauty also donates to a variety of organizations that empower women and people of color. Looking good, feeling good and doing good!

Not slowing down for a minute, Ellis Ross working with Kenya Barris, launched a pre-quel to Black-ish called Mixed-ish. Most recently, she embraced the role of singer Grace Davis in The High Note, making her singing debut on the film's soundtrack.

Continuing to build her incredible resume, as of February 2021, Ellis Ross signed on as the diversity and inclusion advisor at Ulta Beauty. Ellis Ross will help direct Ulta Beauty when it comes to building up its diversity both internally and the brands it carries in stores. We can't wait to see what comes next for this real-life superwoman!

Sources: Tracee Ellis Ross, Allure, Pattern Beauty