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Frederick Douglass Day 2023: Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Readings About Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893)



Mary Ann Shadd Cary was an active abolitionist and the first female African American newspaper editor in North America.

Mary Ann Shadd was born October 9, 1823 in Wilmington, Delaware.  She was the eldest of 13 children born to Abraham Doras (A.D.) Shadd and Harriet Burton Parnell, two free Black people.  Mary Ann was educated at a Quaker school in Pennsylvania and later started her own school for Black people.  After the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed, Mary Ann and her brother, Isaac, moved to Windsor, Ontario (right across the border from Detroit, Michigan).  While there, she founded a racially-integrated school with the support of the American Missionary Association.  While there, she published a pamphlet called, "Notes on Canada West".  The pamphlet was a plea for Black emigration to Canada -- detailing the benefits and opportunities that Black people could leverage if the moved north. She, also, ran an anti-slavery newspaper called The Provincial Freeman, which made her the first female editor in North America.  Isaac Shadd, Mary Ann's brother, managed the business affairs of the newspaper, and would go on to host gatherings at his home to plan the raid on Harper's Ferry.

In 1855, Mary Ann attempted to participate in the Philadelphia Colored Convention but, due to her advocacy of emigration, she was deemed a controversial figure.  She was narrowly admitted by a margin of 15 votes.  Even though she gave such a great speech advocating for emigration that the delegates voted to give her ten more minutes, her speech was stricken from the record likely because she was a woman.

In 1856, Mary Ann Shadd married Thomas F. Cary -- a barber who was involved with her newspaper.  She had two children -- a daughter named Sarah and a son named Linton.  After her husband died in 1860, Mary Ann and her children moved to the United States.  During the Civil War, Shadd Cary served as a recruiting officer to enlist Black volunteers for the Union Army in the state of Indiana.  After the War, she taught in Black schools in Wilmington before moving to Washington, D.C. In D.C., she taught in public schools before the first woman to enter Howard University School of Law.  She was the first Black woman to obtain a law degree from Howard (in 1883, at age 60) and among the first women to obtain a law degree nationwide.  

Mary Ann Shadd Cary joined the National Woman Suffrage Association, working alongside Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton for women's suffrage and testifying before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives. She was the first Black women to vote in a national election. She died in Washington D.C. on June 5, 1893 from stomach cancer.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary's former residence in the U Street Corridor was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976.   She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1998.  She was also honored in Canada by being designated a Person of National Historic Significance. The New York Times published a belated obituary for her in 2018.