UNSUNG SISTERS OF BLACK HISTORY MONTH
Mary Ann Shadd Cary wore many hats throughout her life; all with the purpose of liberation. Liberation of the body and mind. Born in October 1823, the eldest of 13 children, to a free woman Harriet and a former Hessian soldier turned abolitionist Abraham Shadd, Mary grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Her father worked for an abolitionist newspaper and is said to have aided escaped slaves traveling along the Underground Railroad. She was formally educated at a Quaker school and would go on to establish a school of her own in 1840, at the age of 17, where she taught Black children.
Following the passing of the Fugitive Slave Laws (1850), Mary moved to Ontario, Canada with her brother where she continued to educate the children of fugitive slaves who fled the United States to avoid capture. Two years after crossing the border Shadd published "Notes on Canada West" in 1852 which was a pamphlet that detailed the benefits of expatriating and encouraged African-Americans to relocate. A short time later, in 1853, Mary Ann Shadd founded and published Canada's first antislavery newspaper the Provincial Freedman. The creation of the Provincial Freedman made Mary Ann Shadd the first African-American woman newspaper editor in North America and Canada's first woman publisher. The early attention gained by the Freedman newspaper allowed Shadd to travel across Canada and the United States as an advocate for abolitionism and, furthermore, integration.
She married Thomas Cary, a barber and contributor to the Provincial Freedman, in 1856. Together they had two children Sarah and Linton. Shadd Cary's husband died before the birth of their second child which prompted her to move back to the U.S. ahead of the Civil War. Upon her return she was appointed Recruiting Officer for the Union Army getting Black volunteers to enlist and fight for freedom. Following the Civil War she began teaching again in her birthplace of Wilmington, Delaware before moving south to Washington, D.C. where she is known to be the first woman to enter Howard University's School of Law. At the age of 60 she became only the second Black woman in the United States to earn a law degree behind Charlotte E. Ray, also a Howard University School of Law graduate. Shadd Cary, post-slavery, adopted women's rights as one of her causes. In her later years she began working alongside Susan B. Anthony in the National Woman Suffrage Association, even testifying before the House of Representatives for women's right to vote. Mary Ann Shadd Cary would eventually become the first Black woman to vote in a national election due to her efforts. She died on June 5, 1893 at 69 and was laid to rest in Washington, D.C. Her legacy stands, she lived and led with great conviction and a heart for service as a teacher, editor, lawyer and activist who fought to better the lives of all oppressed people.
Mary Ann Shadd Cary's Legacy: