Mary Ann Shadd Cary
Mary Ann Shadd was born in Delaware on October 9, 1823, eldest of thirteen siblings to free Black parents. As a child she was influenced by her parents involvement in the civil rights movement, her father was a conductor on the Underground Railroad and her Quaker education. The result was that Mary Ann Shadd spent her life advocating for the equality of all people regardless of colour or sex.
As a young adult Mary Ann moved to Canada with her brother and settled in Ontario, however, her parents and siblings joined her soon after when the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act made it illegal to assist slaves in achieving freedom and a cash bounty for the return of an escaped slave to their owner was put in place.
In Ontario Mary Ann wrote extensively of the advantages that Canada offered to Black families, encouraging them to make the dangerous trek north. She became the first Black female publisher when she started the Provincial Freeman newspaper, March 24, 1854.
Mary Ann also worked as a teacher during this same period and opened the first integrated school for any child whose parents could afford to educate their children. In 1851 she distinguished herself by being the only woman to attend the First Convention of Colored Freemen outside of the US.
She met Thomas F. Cary when she moved to Toronto, Ontario and they married in 1856 and went on to have two children.
Mary Ann became a Canadian citizen prior to returning to the United States in 1861 with the outbreak of the American Civil War. Mary Ann Shadd used her writing skills to recruit Black men to fight with the Northern Armies.
After the Civil War she remained in the US, teaching Black children and advocating for the equality of all people. She returned to school herself becoming the first Black woman accepted into Howard University and the second to graduate with a Law Degree.
Mary Ann Shadd joined ranks with others in the fight for women’s rights and so it was that she is recorded as the first the Black woman to cast a vote in a national election.
Mary Ann Shadd is a woman of history. In her life time she fought for:
- the rights of all children to receive an education in an integrated setting;
- the abolition of slavery in her writing and in her work recruiting Black Soldiers into the Northern Army;
- her right to be an attorney and
- the right of women to vote.
It is important that we continue to remember and talk about women like Mary Ann Shadd providing our daughters and granddaughter with strong role models to follow.
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