San Francisco’s mother of civil rights

Mary Ellen Pleasant learned about business as a bonded servant to a Nantucket Quaker storekeeper. Later she worked with the Underground Railroad, often stealing slaves and smuggling them north. Then in 1850 she went to New Orleans where she became involved with Marie LaVeaux, the Voodoo Queen.

Mary Ellen Pleasant

She came to California in 1852 and passed as a white businesswoman, opening restaurants that catered to the rich and powerful and ran a boarding house for young ladies who entertained wealthy men. Some say she used voodoo to control people. Others say she would use information passed to her by black servants of the rich to blackmail them. Whatever the truth, Mary Ellen was a major force in San Franciscowho helped blacks enjoy a better life.



  1. Necessity is the mother of invention and survival, so did/do it better than others. Fascinating!

  2. The image of Mammy Pleasant as a helper of her fellow Blacks is a late 20th Century invention. One finds nothing about this at any point before this. From time to time she did push when her *own* rights were violated; but I can find no record of her ever defending the rights of anyone else.

  3. Her main activity was as a brothel keeper and female pimp.

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