Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sarah Bickford

In celebration of Black History Month, here's a look at a remarkable woman.

Virginia City businesswoman Sarah Bickford was born into slavery. Her parents were sold when she was very young, and she never saw them again. After the Civil War, Sarah went to live with an aunt in Tennessee. She came west at age fifteen in the employ of the John L. Murphy family. Judge Murphy served briefly as associate justice in the territorial Supreme Court at Virginia City. Sarah took take care of the Murphys’ children on the journey west. The Murphys soon returned to the states, but Sarah stayed, working as a chambermaid in a Virginia City hotel. She once found a poke of gold dust worth fifteen hundred dollars mistakenly left by a hotel guest. She tracked him down and returned it, and the miserly miner gave her a reward of twenty-five cents.

From From Slave to Water Magnate by Marlette C. Lacey
Sarah married a miner and had three children, but by the 1880s, her entire family had died. In 1881 Sarah married Stephen Bickford, a miner and owner of the Virginia City Water Company. With Stephen she had two girls and a boy who grew up listening to poignant stories about their mother’s first set of children. When Stephen died in 1900, Sarah took over the water company. She kept her office in Virginia City’s famous Hangman’s Building until her death in 1931. Sarah Bickford was one of the first women, and perhaps the only black woman in the nation, to own a utility.

From Montana Moments: History on the Go

P.S. Lots more research about Sarah Bickford at this blog, plus the Sarah Bickford house in Virginia City.
P.P.S. Remember this remarkable woman?

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