Pioneers of The Divide: Ellen Mason

The Story of Ellen Mason

California gold attracted many women.  The chances of “striking it rich” induced any number of females that had no other chance to earn large sums of money to brave the conditions and seek their fortune.

Ellen Mason was born a slave on a southern plantation.  She was fortunate to have a tolerant owner and she wasn’t afraid of hard work.  Ellen did extra domestic chores and eventually earned enough money to purchase her own freedom.  She promptly came west on the heels of the gold seekers.

Ellen chose to settle in Georgetown, the first recorded female (other than Indians) to settle on the Divide.  She set herself up as a laundress, washing miners’ shirts.  In the very early days of the Gold Rush, it wasn’t uncommon for miners to send their dirty laundry on schooners to be laundered in the Sandwich Islands and China, because no one wanted to leave a potential strike long enough to take care of such a mundane chore.

Ellen made enough money to buy freedom for two sisters she had left behind in the South and move them West.  Ellen lived in Georgetown as a woman of means until 1878, then moved to Oakland where she died in 1908.

The above is an excerpt from the article “Georgetown Divide Women” by Sheryl Rambeau

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