Published Resources on Mary Ellen Pleasant


While there are more unpublished resources on MEP than published, here is a list of books and articles you can access today.

“Mammy Pleasant” Helen Holdredge Putnam 1953

I hate this book. However, it has more information in it than any other work out on Pleasant. If you can possibly not be influenced by the tone and the adjectives and adverbs, you can tease out a timeline that is pretty good after 1840. All the names and characters that surrounded MEP are in this book, though I wish someone had ripped the author’s fingernails out for the biased and salacious tone of this tome.

When I first became a passionate learner about Mary Ellen Pleasant, in 1986, this was the only book available. Even though the book and the scholarship are awful, I have to keep returning to it.

The Making of Mammy Pleasant: A Black Entrepreneur In 19th Century San Francisco. Lynn Hudson U of Illinois Press 2002

This book has a pretty organized bibliography and lots of footnotes, but does no new research. It is an interpretive work discussing the remarkable Mary Ellen Pleasant as a (black) business woman of her day and time. This is an important aspect of her life. It reads like a PhD thesis and is not meant to be comprehensive. However, just having some of the information arranged in a different way and order from Holdredge is a nice variation, though she continues to exploit the epithet Mammy. Believe me, MEP was no Mammy!

Hughes is a history teacher and I was surprised to see a photo of her, she is very fair, blond with blue eyes. I would have expected at least other one person with some African ancestry to be researching her by now- in addition to Bibbs- because there atleast a few more PhD’s in studies of MEP and her world.

Heritage of Power: (Marie LaVeaux to Mary Ellen Pleasant) — Enlarged edition by Susheel Bibbs (Aug 10, 2012)

This book, the first effort by Bibbs to be picked up by a national distributor, focuses on Mary Ellen Pleasant as a practitioner of Voodoo and how Marie Laveau’s model of political voodoo, was used very successfully by MEP for decades in San Francisco.

Bibbs also has some G rated booklets and pamphlets available only through her web site focused on MEP’s works that had an impact on civil rights in California, in both the 19th and 20th centuries. With Heritage of Power, she places MEP into the framework of African religion, in general and Voodoo (now called Vodoun) in particular.

I believe Bibbs was originally an opera singer looking for a black woman she could portray on stage as a way to make a living reving Chuatuaquas, as she put it. She happened upon MEP in 1991 and within a few years, had produced a one man show with the help of  the Humanities Council of CA. She has since taken this show anywhere she could and put it on a DVD which is also available.

She claims to be the foremost scholar on MEP and probably is, because there is no one else researching her. She also says she has the largest collection of materials on MEP, although what she has in print so far, seems meager. Bibbs apparently only came to collecting these material as a result of  desiring to make  the one woman show. Not to actually do a biography. She is not an academically trained historian and does not follow the strictest rules of citing sources for her claims, although she is hella better than Holdredge was at it! All her degrees are in media of various kinds, so I wonder if she will ever produce a factual print history of MEP based on all the research she has done and all the collections she has looked at. She spends a lot of time researching other black performers, and although her work is the best available so far, on MEP, it is far from complete. If I had all the sources Bibbs does, I would be working on a comprehensive biography of MEP. As it is, the sources on this page are all that is available to me, except for other sources derived from these, so I do the best I can to understand MEP from the sources available. This otherwise very lurid source has a photo of Sarah Hill (Sharon?), the lass who started the chain of events that brought Pleasant down.

I’ll be adding to this list if I can find anything that has something new, ie the photo of Sarah in above source, as bad as the source is.

In addition to the information that has reached books and magazine articles, there are various private collections with material relating to Pleasant. The MEP collection in the SF library is probably the most accessible- to people who can get to SF.

Other collection owners in attempts to maximize the dollar value of their collections, will not share them publicly. They will, allow people to look at them by appointment, but the rules about sharing their information are strict and narrow. Since none of them has accurate information about her true birthplace, they are not central to a study of her, I think most of the facts are out and these collections are supplemental and/or corroborative to what is known.