Mary Ann Shadd, 1823-1893

  • Mary-Ann-Shadd-WWP

Woman Category: Activism & Feminism, Law, and MediaWoman Tags: 19th Amendment Centennial Anniversary, Abolitionist, African-American Women, Journalist, Lawyer, Suffragist, and WDC Metro Area Women

  • HerStory

    Abolitionist, suffragist, journalist, publisher, teacher, and lawyer. The first black woman publisher in North America and the first woman publisher in Canada.

    Mary Ann Shadd was born in Wilmington, Delaware, to free African-Americans and abolitionists parents. Her father was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and their home was a refuge for fugitive slaves. When she was 10 years old, it became illegal for African-Americans to receive education in Delaware, so the family moved to Pennsylvania, where she attended a Quaker Boarding School. At 16, after graduating high school, she established a school for black children in East Chester, and later she taught in several cities, including NYC.
    At the age of 27, the family moved to Canada, following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which allowed everyone to capture free slaves and returning them to their masters. As a natural-born activist, Shadd became an outspoken advocate for full racial integration and encouraged African-Americans to immigrate to Canada. She founded a school for both black and white children, and in 1852, she published a pamphlet titled “Notes on Canada West,” in which she discussed the benefits and the opportunities that wait for African-Americans in Canada. In 1953, she established “The Provincial Freeman” – the first anti-slavery newspaper, which made her the first female journalist in Canada and the first black female editor in North America. In its seven years of publication in Canada and the US, it explored a variety of topics, from immigration to world events and culture. Her unorthodox approach toward immigration made her a controversial figure in her community, and it almost cost her speech at the Philadelphia Colored Convention of 1855.
    When Shadd was 33, she married Thomas F. Cary, and when he died four years later, while she was pregnant with their second child, she returned to the US. During the Civil War, she served as a recruiting officer, enlisting black volunteers for the Union Army. After the war, she settled in Washington, DC, where she worked as a teacher while attending evening classes at Howard University Law School. In 1883, Shadd graduated at the age of 60 and became the second black woman in the US to earn a law degree. She never stopped writing, publishing articles in numerous newspapers, including The People’s Advocate and the National Era.
    Shadd was also a women’s rights activist, working alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony at the National Woman Suffrage Association, and in 1880, she established the Colored Women’s Progressive Franchise – an organization promoting equal rights of African-American women. She died at the age of 70 from stomach cancer.

    “We should do more and talk less”

    “We should do more and talk less”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She was the eldest of 13 children.
    • Her father, A.D. Shadd was one of the first black men to be elected to political office in Canada.
    • She did not list her name on her articles, concealing they were written and editorialized by a woman.
    • She was the first woman to speak at a national African-American convention.
    • She had two children and was married once.
    • Since 1976 her home in the U Street Corridor at Washington, DC became a National Historic Landmark.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * Designated a Women's History Month Honoree by the National Women's History Project (1987)
    * Designated a Person of National Historic Significance in Canada (1994)
    * Inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame (1998)

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Remembering My Roots

    In 1853, Mary Ann Shadd Cary became the first black woman in all of North America to own a newspaper. Blair Newby, Special Events Assistant at Black Creek Pioneer Village, is seventh generation African-Canadian, and the fourth great niece of Mary Ann Shadd. Blair talks about the history of this early entrepreneur and anti-slavery activist in this video.

    See more about Black Creek Pioneer Village at

  • Photo credit - Wikipedia

  • Citations and Additional References:
    An article on The New York Times website.
    Wikipedia page.