Sunday, February 3, 2013

Black History Month No. 3: 12 Cool Things to Know About Mary Ann Shadd Cary

       Okay, so I'd never heard of Mary Ann Shadd Cary until I had the privilege of writing and illustrating the book Rabble Rousers: Twenty Women Who Mad a Difference (pub'd by Dutton in 2003. One of them was Sojourner Truth, about whom I wrote yesterday.)  In learning about Mrs. Cary, honored I was to know of this valiant, stubborn lady. Honored I am to acquaint others with the fact that she lived.

"It's better to wear out than to rust out."

"Self-reliance is the Fine Road to Independence."

Mary Ann Shadd Cary  1823 ~ 1893
I find myself picturing her smiling and speaking, don't you?

1. Mary Ann's parents, Abraham and Harriet Shadd, were free black citizens of Wilmington, Delaware and big deals in the Underground Railroad: a very brave undertaking in their America. Mary Ann was the first of their 13 children.

2. When Mary Ann was only 16 years old, she used the education she'd received from Pennsylvania Quakers to start a school. Just think of that.  Who were her students? African American children. As in most places in the Land of Liberty, there was precious little equality and fairness for people of color, education-wise and otherwise. 

3. When Mary Ann was 27, the U.S. Congress came up with the Compromise of 1850 as a way to calm things down between pro- and anti-slavery Americans. Part of the legislation was the Fugitive Slave Act: Runaway slaves, who'd made it to the northern states could be arrested and sent back to their owners down South. As a result, any person of color could be captured, detained, and sent into servitude. Thousands of African Americans fled to Canada. That's what Mary Ann Shadd did, along with her brother, Isaac.  

4. And what did she do when she got there? She taught, she wrote, made speeches, founded an integrated school (in Windsor, Ontario), and in 1854, Miss Shadd began a newspaper, thus becoming North America's  FIRST African American woman publisher.

5. Ms. Shadd's Provincial Freeman of Toronto, Canada was full of information for blacks looking to build new lives in the far, free North. Moreover the pages of this weekly paper were devoted to writings on the abolition of the wicked practice of slavery. 

6. In 1856, Mary Ann Shadd married Thomas Cary. Together they had a son and a daughter, Linton and Sarah.  Thomas passed away in 1860.

7. Mary Ann Shadd Cary moved to Washington, DC. When this working mother wasn't teaching or serving as a school principal, she was recruiting black soldiers for the Union Army.

8. After the Civil War and the final abolition of slavery, Mrs. Cary became the FIRST woman of color to enter the law school of Howard University, in 1869. 

Charlotte E. Ray, 1850 ~ 1911
9. Upon graduating, Mary Ann Shadd Cary was the second female of her race (after New Yorker, Charlotte E. Ray, in 1872) to obtain a law degree, in fact, one of the first U.S. females to do so, regardless of color.

10. Mrs. Cary applied her terrific energy to winning U.S. women the right to vote, to fully participate in civic life of their nation. 

11. To that end, Mrs. Cary founded the Colored Women's Progressive Franchise Association in 1880.

12. On June 5, 1893, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, educator, abolitionist, political dissident and activist, journalist, lawyer, and mom, died of cancer, having used her life and intellect to the fullest. 


  1. I can't properly express how incredible this woman's life was. I've never run across her name before, but reading this, it is clear she belongs in EVERY American History text. Thank you so much for sharing her story with us, Cheryl.

  2. you are completely welcome, Melanie C. S. Mrs. Cary was a valiant soul!