What do you think about that?

ART/Sherri Winston

Millionaires of the Past

MARY ELLEN PLEASANT—solemn housemaid to self-made millionaire.

  • She worked as a housemaid and cook
  • Investments were her passion
  • she eavesdropped on high-flying white businessmen who never suspected a black woman could understand their important talks about money, property, valuation and stock
  • Mary Ellen and a partner bought laundries, dairies and even owned stock in Wells Fargo Bank in 1852


*She befriended a bank clerk named Thomas Bell, and the two formed a partnership. No doubt Mary Ellen found Thomas useful because having their accounts in the name of a white man made life simpler. That is, until Bell died in 1892 and his greedy, thieving wife sued Mary Ellen for her part of the multi-million-dollar fortune. The former Mrs. Bell used the courts to take everything Mary Ellen had earned, and Mary Ellen died penniless in 1904, having lost everything, including the home she’d come to love.

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