Abolitionist, teacher, writer, editor and lawyer, Mary Ann Shadd Cary was born free in the slave state of Delaware in 1823 to abolitionist parents. The oldest of 13 children, Mary Ann’s home was a station for the Underground Railroad where African-American slaves escaped to Canada.
When she was only 16 years old, Mary Ann organized and taught schools for black youth in Delaware, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. During this this period, Mary Ann became a vocal leader in the abolitionist movement where she wrote manifestoes condemning slavery, and demanded for black independence and self-respect.
After the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, Mary Ann moved to Windsor, Ontario where she opened a school for Canada’s growing free black population. Although slavery was officially abolished throughout the British Empire in 1834, schools were still segregated in Canada, a cultural practice Mary Ann refused to accept. Her stand against segregated schools and conflicts with local black male leaders—who supported segregated schools—put her job at risk and well as the closure of her schools.
Despite the threats, Mary Ann continued to teach and founded the weekly newspaper, The Provincial Freeman, becoming North America’s first black woman editor and publisher. Under the motto, “Self-Reliance is the True Road to Independence,” The Provincial Freeman, which ran until 1860, was an anti-slavery newspaper that attacked racism, segregation, and refused the notion that blacks were second-class citizens. The Provincial Freeman also championed women’s rights, publishing the lectures of feminists Lucy Stone Blackwell and Lucretia Mott and the poems of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.
At the end of the Provincial Freeman’s run and at the beginning of the Civil War, Mary Ann returned to the United States where she continued to teach. At the end of the war, Mary Ann “became the first woman to attend Howard University’s law school, launching—and winning—a lawsuit against the school for sexual discrimination.” She graduated in 1883 with a law degree, the second black woman in America and practiced law until she passed away on June 5, 1893 at the age 69.
Mary Ann Shadd Cary was born on October 9, 1823 and is this week’s feature on Women Hurrying History.
“Wagon Wheel” by Kevin MacLeod
“General Mixup March” by the Arthur Pryors Band