Mary Ann Shadd

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Mary Ann Shadd Cary
BornMary Ann Shadd
October 9, 1823
Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.
DiedJune 5, 1893(1893-06-05) (aged 69)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Resting placeColumbian Harmony Cemetery
OccupationAnti-slavery activist, journalist, publisher, teacher, lawyer
Alma materHoward University (School of Law)
Thomas F. Cary
(m. 1856; died 1860)
ParentsAbraham D. Shadd
Harriet Burton Parnell
RelativesEunice P. Shadd (sister), Isaac Shadd (brother), Garrison W. Shadd (brother)

Mary Ann Camberton Shadd Cary (October 9, 1823 – June 5, 1893) was an American-Canadian anti-slavery activist, journalist, publisher, teacher, and lawyer. She was the first black woman publisher in North America and the first woman publisher in Canada.[1][2] She was also the second black woman to attend law school in the United States. Mary Shadd established the newspaper Provincial Freeman in 1853, which was published weekly in southern Ontario. it advocated equality, integration, and self-education for black people in Canada and the United States.[3][4]

Mary's family was involved in the Underground Railroad, assisting those fleeing slavery in the United States. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, her family relocated to what is today southern Ontario (then the western part of the United Canadas). She returned to the United States during the American Civil War, where she recruited soldiers for the Union. Self-taught, Mary went to Howard University Law School, and continued advocacy for civil rights for African Americans and women for the rest of her life.

Early life[edit]

Mary Ann Shadd was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on October 9, 1823, the eldest of 13 children to Abraham Doras Shadd (1801–1882) and Harriet Burton Parnell, who were free African Americans. Abraham D. Shadd was a grandson of Hans Schad, alias John Shadd, a native of Hesse-Cassel who had entered the United States serving as a Hessian soldier with the British Army during the French and Indian War. Hans Schad was wounded and left in the care of two African-American women, a mother and daughter, both named Elizabeth Jackson. The Hessian soldier and the daughter were married in January 1756 and their first son was born six months later.[5]

A. D. Shadd was the son of Jeremiah Shadd, John's younger son, who was a Wilmington butcher. Abraham Shadd was trained as a shoemaker[6] and had a shop in Wilmington and later in the nearby town of West Chester, Pennsylvania. In both places he was active as a conductor on the Underground Railroad and in other civil rights activities, being an active member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and, in 1833, named President of the National Convention for the Improvement of Free People of Colour in Philadelphia.[7]

Growing up, her family's home frequently served as a refuge for fugitive slaves; however, when it became illegal to educate African-American children in the state of Delaware, the Shadd family moved to Pennsylvania, where Mary attended a Quaker Boarding School (despite being raised Catholic). In 1840, Shadd returned to East Chester and established a school for black children. She also later taught in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and New York City.

Three years after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, A. D. Shadd moved his family to the United Canadas (Canada West), settling in North Buxton, Ontario. In 1858, he became one of the first black men to be elected to political office in Canada, when he was elected to the position of Counsellor of Raleigh Township, Ontario.

Social activism[edit]

Plaque to Shadd (Cary) in Chatham, Ontario, from the national Historic Sites and Monuments Board. Photo:

In 1848, Frederick Douglass asked readers in his newspaper, The North Star, to offer their suggestions on what could be done to improve life for African Americans. Shadd, then 25 years of age, wrote to him to say, "We should do more and talk less."[8] She expressed her frustration with the many conventions that had been held to that date, such as those attended by her father, where speeches were made and resolutions passed about the evils of slavery and the need for justice for African Americans. Yet little tangible improvement had resulted. Douglass published her letter in his paper.[citation needed]

When the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 in the United States threatened to return free Northern blacks and escaped slaves into bondage, Shadd and her brother Isaac Shadd moved to Canada, and settled in Windsor, Ontario, across the border from Detroit, where Shadd's efforts to create free black settlements in Canada first began.

While in Windsor, she founded a "racially" integrated school with the support of the American Missionary Association. Public education in Ontario was not open to black students at the time. Shadd offered daytime classes for children and youth, and evening classes for adults.

An advocate for emigration, in 1852, Shadd published a pamphlet entitled A Plea for Emigration; or Notes of Canada West, in Its Moral, Social and Political Aspect: with Suggestions respecting Mexico, West Indies and Vancouver's Island for the Information of Colored Emigrants. The pamphlet discussed the benefits of emigration, as well as the opportunities for blacks in the area.[9][6][10]

The Provincial Freeman[edit]

In 1853, Shadd founded an anti-slavery newspaper, called The Provincial Freeman. The paper's slogan was "Devoted to antislavery, temperance and general literature."[8] It was published weekly and the first issue was published in Toronto, Ontario, on March 24, 1853.[11] It ran for four years before financial challenges ended its publication.

The front page of The Provincal Freeman, September 2, 1854.

Shadd was aware that her female name would repel some readers, because of the gender expectations of 19th-century society. Therefore, she persuaded Samuel Ringgold Ward, a black abolitionist who published several abolitionist newspapers, including Impartial Citizen, to help her publish it.[12][13][14] She also enlisted the help of Rev. Alexander McArthur, a white clergyman. Their names were featured on the masthead, but Shadd was involved in all aspects of the paper.

Her brother Isaac Shadd managed the daily business affairs of the newspaper. Isaac was also a committed abolitionist, and would later host gatherings to plan the raid on Harper's Ferry at his home.[15]

Shadd traveled widely in Canada and the United States to increase subscription to the paper, and to publicly solicit aid for runaway slaves. Because of the Fugitive Slave Act, these trips included significant risk to Shadd's safety; free blacks could be captured by bounty hunters seeking escaped slaves.[12]

As was typical in the black press, The Provincial Freeman played an important role by giving voice to the opinions of black Canadian anti-slavery activists.

The impact of African-American newspapers from 1850 to 1860 was significant in the abolitionist movement. However, it was challenging to sustain publication. Publishers like Shadd undertook their work because of a commitment to education and advocacy and used their newspapers as a means to influence opinion. They had to overcome financial, political, and social challenges to keep their papers afloat.[16][17][18]

Carol B. Conaway writes in "Racial Uplift: The Nineteenth Century Thought of Black Newspaper Publisher Mary Ann Shadd Cary" that these newspapers shifted the focus from whites to blacks in an empowering way. She writes that whites read these newspapers to monitor the level of dissatisfaction among African Americans and to measure their tolerance for continued slavery in America.

Black newspapers often modeled their newspapers on mainstream white publications. According to research conducted by William David Sloan in his various historical textbooks, the first newspapers were about four pages and had one blank page to provide a place for people to write their own information before passing it along to friends and relatives. He also discussed how the newspapers during these early days were the center of information for society and culture.[19][20][21][22][23]

In 1854, Shadd changed the masthead to feature her own name, rather than those of McArthur and Ward. She also hired her sister to help edit the paper. There was intense criticism of the change, and Shadd was forced to resign the following year.[11]

Civil War and postbellum activism[edit]

Mary Ann Shadd Cary House in Washington, D.C.

Between 1855 and 1856, Shadd traveled in the United States as an anti-slavery speaker, advocating for full racial integration through education and self-reliance.[15] In her speeches, she advised all blacks to insist on fair treatment, and to take legal action if necessary.[24]

Shadd sought to participate in the 1855 Philadelphia Colored Convention, but women had never been permitted to attend, and the assembly had to debate whether to let her sit as a delegate. Her advocacy of emigration made her a controversial figure and she was only admitted by a slim margin of 15 votes. According to Frederick Douglass's Paper, although she gave a speech at the Convention advocating for emigration, she was so well-received that the delegates voted to give her ten more minutes to speak. However, her presence at the convention was largely elided from the minutes, likely because she was a woman.[25]

In 1856, she married Thomas F. Cary, a Toronto barber who was also involved with the Provincial Freeman. They had a daughter named Sarah and a son named Linton.[26]

In 1858, Shadd was a member of the Chatham Vigilance Committee that sought to prevent former slaves from being returned to the United States and brought back into slavery, such as in the case of Sylvanus Demarest.[27]

After her husband died in 1860, Shadd Cary and her children returned to the United States.[6] During the American Civil War, at the behest of the abolitionist Martin Delany,[28] she served as a recruiting officer to enlist black volunteers for the Union Army in the state of Indiana.

After the Civil War, she taught in black schools in Wilmington. She then returned to Washington, D.C., with her daughter, and taught for fifteen years in the public schools.[9] She then attended Howard University School of Law and graduated at the age of 60 in 1883, becoming the second black woman in the United States to earn a law degree.[6]

She wrote for the newspapers National Era and The People's Advocate, and in 1880, organized the Colored Women's Progressive Franchise.

Shadd Cary joined the National Woman Suffrage Association, working alongside Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to advocate for women's suffrage, testifying before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, and becoming the first African-American woman to vote in a national election.[29]

She died in Washington, D.C., on June 5, 1893, from stomach cancer. She was interred at Columbian Harmony Cemetery.[30]


In the United States, Shadd Cary's former residence in the U Street Corridor of Washington, DC, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976. In 1987 she was designated a Women's History Month Honoree by the National Women's History Project.[31] In 1998, Shadd Cary was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.[32]

In Canada, she was designated a Person of National Historic Significance,[28] with a plaque from the National Historic Sites and Monuments Board placed in Chatham, Ontario. There, at BME Freedom Park, Ontario provincial plaques also honor her and her newspaper, The Provincial Freeman. In Toronto, a Heritage Toronto plaque marks where she published the Provincial Freeman while living in the city from 1854 to 1855.

Shadd Cary is featured in Canada's citizenship test study guide, released in 2009.[33]

In 1985 Mary Shadd Public School was opened in Scarborough Ontario Canada, in the town of Malvern, and was later enlarged in 1992. The school motto "Free to be...the best of me" and school anthem "We're on the right track...Mary Shadd" are tributes to Shadd, after whom the school was named.[34]

In 2018 the New York Times published a belated obituary for her.[8]

Shadd's 197th birthday was observed with a Google Doodle on October 9, 2020, appearing across Canada, the United States, Latvia, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa.[35]

The Mary Ann Shadd Cary Post Office, named that in 2021, is at 500 Delaware Avenue, Suite 1, in Wilmington, Delaware.[36][37]

On May 12, 2022, the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada unveiled a bronze statue of Mary Ann Shadd Cary created by local artist Donna Mayne. Members of the Shadd family and descendants attended the unveiling.[38]

Shadd is featured on a Canadian postal stamp in 2024.[39]


The Mary Ann Shadd Cary fonds (F 1409) at the Archives of Ontario[40] is one of the few surviving collections created by Mary Ann Shadd Cary that is held by an archival institution. It is the most comprehensive set of records available. It provides a unique and substantive viewpoint of Shadd Cary's work on the international anti-slavery movement. The materials offer insight into the years she lived in Canada West (now Ontario) between 1851 and 1863. The fonds consists of letters received by and written by Mary Ann Shadd Cary during her time living in present-day Ontario. It also includes business records and lecture notes, as well as copies of articles written by Shadd Cary on topics such as supporting integrated schools, fighting segregation, and the political stance taken by Provincial Freeman editorial staff. Included is correspondence between members of Shadd Cary's family, including her husband Thomas Cary and her brother Isaac Shadd, as well as correspondence with prominent African-American abolitionists William Still, H. Ford Douglas, and Rev. Samuel Ringgold Ward, among others.

The records were acquired from Ed and Maxine Robbins. In 1974, they discovered the records following the demolition of an old building on their property that had once served as Shadd Cary's home in Chatham, Ontario. The materials were saved from the resulting rubble. The records were left in the home when Shadd Cary returned to the United States.[41] After the discovery, the material was loaned to the Archives of Ontario in 1986 for microfilming. The records were also cleaned and treated to repair damage. The original records were returned to the Robbins family and remained in their custody until 2022 when they were donated to the archives. This material is available on self-serve microfilm MS 483.

These records were transcribed on February 14, 2023, as part of Douglass Day. Initiated by the Colored Conventions Project, Douglass Day is an annual celebration that commemorates Frederick Douglass' birthday and Black History Month with a transcribe-a-thon. Douglass Day 2023 was launched with the Archives of Ontario as a primary partner. The focus of Douglas Day 2023 was the transcription and enrichment of newly-digitized collections from Mary Ann Shadd Cary.

The Library and Archives Canada holds the Mary Ann Shadd Cary collection.[42] The archival reference number is R4182-0-X-E, former archival reference number MG24-K22.[43] The collection covers the date range 1852 to 1889. It comprises 1.6 centimetres of textual records, which consists of personal and professional correspondence, various notes about her life, and copies of her works as an abolitionist. The collection also includes Shadd Cary's original passport and Naturalization Certificate as well as a black and white portrait photograph of her, the only known one of Shadd Cary that exists.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Provincial Freeman". Archives of Ontario. Archived from the original on January 26, 2012.
  2. ^ "Mary Ann Shadd Cary (U.S. National Park Service)". Retrieved September 1, 2020.
  3. ^ "Mary Ann Shadd Cary". A&E Networks Television. Retrieved March 15, 2013.
  4. ^ Hill, Daniel G. (Spring–Summer 1982). "The Black Press". Polyphony: The Bulletin of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario. 4 (1): 43. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
  5. ^ Scott P. (July 1, 2010). "Abraham Doras Shadd". The Mill Creek Hundred History Blog. Retrieved April 26, 2014.
  6. ^ a b c d "Mary Ann Shadd Cary". Historical Marker Database. Retrieved September 24, 2015.
  7. ^ Ito, Gail (February 24, 2009). "Shadd, Abraham Doras (1801–1882)".
  8. ^ a b c Special, Megan (June 7, 2018). "Overlooked No More: How One Woman Shook Up the Abolitionist Movement". The New York Times. Retrieved June 8, 2018.
  9. ^ a b Pope, Sarah Dillard. "Aboard the Underground Railroad – Mary Ann Shadd Cary House". Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  10. ^ "Mary Ann Shadd Cary". Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  11. ^ a b "The Provincial Freeman |". Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  12. ^ a b "Aboard the Underground Railroad--Mary Ann Shadd Cary House".
  13. ^ Rhodes, Jane, Mary Ann Shadd Cary: The Black Press and Protest in the Nineteenth Century. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.
  14. ^ "Mary Ann Shadd Cary and The Provincial Freeman". Retrieved September 1, 2020.
  15. ^ a b "Mary Ann Shadd Cary |". Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  16. ^ Conaway, Carol B., "Racially Integrated Education: The Antebellum Thought of Mary Ann Shadd Cary and Frederick Douglass." Women's Education 27, no. 2 (2010): 86.
  17. ^ Conaway, Carol B., "Racial Uplift: The Nineteenth Century Thought of Black Newspaper Publisher Mary Ann Shadd Cary." Paper presented at the National Communications Association's Annual Convention, Chicago, Ill., November 15–17, 2007.
  18. ^ Goddu, Teresa A., "Early African American Print Culture in Theory and Practice." Early American Literature 45, no. 3 (2010): 733.
  19. ^ Rhode, Jane, "Race, money, politics and the Antebellum Black Press," Journalism History 20, no. 3/4 (1994): 95.
  20. ^ Lechner, Zachary J., "Black Abolitionist Response to the Kansas Crisis, 1854–1856." Kansas History 31, no. 1 (2008): 14.
  21. ^ Rhodes, Jane. "Race, Money, Politics and the Antebellum Black Press," Journalism History 20 no. 3/4: 21–43. 1994.
  22. ^ Sloan, Wm. David. "The Revolutionary Press 1765–1783." In The Media In America A History, 149–51. Northport, AL: Vision Press, 2011.
  23. ^ Sloan, Wm. David. "The Antebellum Press 1827–1860." In Andrew, Thomas (ed.), Perspectives on Mass Communication History, Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991, pp. 152–71. .
  24. ^ Shadd, Adrienne. "Archived- under a Northern star". Archived from the original on May 8, 2015.
  25. ^ The Elevator, "The National Colored Convention," 1869.
  26. ^ Census of Nova Scotia, 1851. Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada: Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management, Nova Scotia Board of Statistics, 1851
  27. ^ "Chatham Vigilance Committee and the Demarest Rescue". Clio. Retrieved April 11, 2021.
  28. ^ a b Shadd, Adrienne. "Mary Ann Shadd Cary: Abolitionist". Library and Archives Canada. Archived from the original on May 8, 2015. Retrieved April 11, 2012.
  29. ^ "Cary, Mary Ann Shadd – National Women's Hall of Fame". National Women's Hall of Fame. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  30. ^ Savage, Beth L. and Shull, Carol D. African American Historic Places. Washington, D.C.: Preservation Press, 1994, p. 136.
  31. ^ "Honorees: 2010 National Women's History Month". Women's History Month. National Women's History Project. 2010. Archived from the original on June 24, 2011. Retrieved November 14, 2011.
  32. ^ "Cary, Mary Ann Shadd". National Women's Hall of Fame.
  33. ^ "Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship". Retrieved September 24, 2020.
  34. ^ "Mary Shadd Public School > About Us > History". TDSB School Websites. Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  35. ^ Mary Ann Shadd Cary's 197th Birthday, Google, October 9, 2020
  36. ^ "Bill Announcement". – via National Archives.
  37. ^ "Wilmington Post Office Named After Mary Ann Shadd Cary, First Black Woman Publisher, Anti-Slavery Activist". August 30, 2021. Retrieved September 2, 2021.
  38. ^ "Legacy of pioneering Black advocate, publisher honoured with sculpture". windsorstar. Retrieved May 14, 2022.
  39. ^ "Mary Ann Shadd, abolitionist and first Black female newspaper publisher, included in 2024 Canada Post stamps". CBC. January 4, 2024. Retrieved January 4, 2024.
  40. ^ "Mary Ann Shadd Cary fonds". Archives of Ontario. Retrieved January 4, 2024.
  41. ^ "Reflections on "Mary Ann Shadd Revisited"". Active History. March 6, 2016. Retrieved April 24, 2023.
  42. ^ "Finding aid to Mary Ann Shadd Cary collection at Library and Archives Canada" (PDF). Retrieved July 31, 2020.
  43. ^ "Mary Ann Shadd Cary collection description at Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved July 31, 2020.

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