Meet the wellness pro-turned-journalist who turned a spotlight on California’s Black achievements
Delilah Beasley may be best known as a pioneering journalist, or for her work chronicling the Black experience in California in the 19th century, or as the first Black woman to become a columnist for a major city newspaper as a writer for the Oakland Tribune. But there’s another reason to know Ms. Beasley: She is considered by many to be the first (or, at least, first recorded) Black massage therapist.
Delilah Leontium Beasley was born soon after the end of the Civil War. She was forced to drop out of school and support herself when both her parents passed away, a tragic turn that triggered one of several remarkable chapters in Delilah’s life.
Seeking an alternative to the low-paying domestic work available to her, Beasley found a rewarding path in massage and bodywork. Massage therapy had only really arrived in the United States in the mid-1800s, making her adoption of the practice quite forward-thinking—a quality that could easily characterize any chapter of her dynamic life.
As detailed in a KQED profile, Beasley studied hydrotherapy, nursing, diagnosis, and eventually therapeutic bodywork, with a specialty treating pregnant women. She also studied the practice of medical gymnastics, an early form of physical therapy that originated in Sweden and came to prominence in the US in the 1850s.
Delilah practiced bodywork in settings ranging from high-end spas to private clients to medical facilities and in locations from Chicago to New York to Michigan, where she was the head massage therapist in a resort. Eventually she settled in Berkeley, CA, to work as a nurse. Here she would find the inspiration for the next chapter of her story.
In California Beasley immersed herself in history courses, research, and civic activity. She found her calling in the thriving Black community of Oakland, and in 1919 she self-published The Negro Trail Blazers of California, an expansive study of black pioneers largely omitted from the history of American exploration.
In 1923, the Oakland Tribune hired her to write a weekly column, “Activities Among Negroes.” Beasley used the space to celebrate the achievements of Black Americans, raise awareness of the barriers that existed for people of color and women, and encourage civic participation among all members of the community.
For the next two decades Delilah Beasley served actively in numerous organizations, including the NAACP, Alameda County League of Women Voters, the National Association of Colored Women, and the League of Nations Association of the California Federated Women’s Club. She continued to write, publish, and rigorously participate in the fight for equality until her death in 1934.
Read more about Delilah Beasley and her historic contributions here.