Mary Ann Shadd Cary

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[A fantastic photograph of Mary Ann Shadd Cary that is in the public domain, and can also be found at the National Archives of Canada. Photographs like this are important at multiple levels, one of which being that they attest to the widespread popularity of Victorian styles of dress and hair outside of whitewashed images of the Victorian Era]

While a name that perhaps many Canadians do not recognize, Mary Ann Shadd Cary (née Mary Ann Shadd) was an important woman to the intertwined histories of abolitionism and Black publishing in 19th c Canada and the USA. Born in Delaware, USA in 1823, Mary Ann Shadd and her family moved to Pennsylvania when the education of African American children was made illegal in the state of Delaware. After attending a Quaker school in Pennsylvania, the Shadd family again moved – this time north to what would become confederated in 1867 as the settler state of Canada – following the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. The Shadds moved to famed North Baxton, ON, a town founded in 1849 by African Americans escaping enslavement in the United States. Mary Ann and her brother Isaac, however, moved to Windsor, ON, where she went on to found a racially integrated school.

While her brother Isaac most certainly deserves a blog post on his own (he helped host planning parties for the raid on Harper’s Ferry led by John Brown), it is Mary Ann Shadd Cary who we wish to praise today on the blog. Beginning in March 1853, Shadd began publishing The Provincial Freeman, making her the first Black woman publisher in North America and the first woman publisher in Canada (you can even see her featured in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, NMAAHC, in Washington, DC!). Through both her newspaper (co-published with Rev. Samuel Ringgold Ward) and the school she helped found, Mary Ann Shadd was a fierce advocate for the self-education of Black people in North America. The Provincial Freeman, as with other Black owned and operated newspapers of this era, was essential in developing and strengthening transnational, diasporic community ties. Shadd, along with other Black activist abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, was a fierce advocate of racially integrated schooling. She was also an essential proponent of moral uplift which, while problematic, was a pivotal movement of Black activism amongst middle class Black women during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Mary Ann Shadd eventually went on to marry Thomas F. Cary, a barber in Toronto, whom she had two children with. After Thomas’s death, she and her children moved to the USA, where she helped recruit Black soldiers for the Union Army during the Civil War. After the end of the Civil War, Mary Ann Shadd Cary became the second Black woman in the United States to earn a law degree – which she achieved at the age of 60! Shadd Cary continued her activism until old age, working alongside other suffragettes to earn the right to vote for women. She, amongst countless other Black women in Canada and the United States during the 19th c, fought for the rights of Black people in multiple spheres of engagement. By doing so, she demonstrated a keen and astute political awareness of how each sphere of inequality and injustice is intertwined and must be addressed in conjunction with one another.

~ M

Bibliography

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Brooklyn: Verso Books, 2016 [Revised edition].

Conaway, Carol B. “Racially Integrated Education: The Antebellum Thought of Mary Ann Shadd Cary and Frederick Douglass.” Vitae Scholasticae Vol. 27 Issue 2 (2010): 86-104.

“The Provincial Freeman.” Last modified January 25, 2012. Accessed August 29, 2017. https://web.archive.org/web/20120126000215/http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/english/archival-records/interloan/provincial-freeman.aspx

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Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Mi Tía Alicia

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[A photograph of mi Tía Alicia taken as a toddler in 1928, looking so cute and fancy!]

Every year that passes, I feel as though I am one more year removed from some of the most important people in my life. The entire generation that makes up mis abuelitxs had passed away by the time I was eighteen; I often feel that I did not get a chance to get to know them as well as I wished because I was so young when some of them died. Because of this, commemorating them has grown in importance to me as I’ve gotten older. In honour of el Día de lxs Muertxs next week, the next two posts on the Historical Hotties Blog will be dedicated to two women de mi familia, one from each side of my family. Today’s Blog post is for mi Tía Alicia (1925-2008), known to many in our community in her later years simply as Tía.

Alicia Gómez Mota was born in May 1925 in la Ciudad de México to Josefina Mota Ávila and Samuel Gómez Jiménez. My great-grandmother (Josefina) was the daughter of a midwife who, on the day of Alicia’s birth, was away helping another woman give birth. In desperation as she began to go into labour, Josefina walked to where her own mother was catching another baby. Mi Tía was born literally minutes after Josefina arrived to see her mother; there was so little time between Josefina’s arrival and mi Tía’s birth that they only had time to slip a bag of corn under Josefina before Alicia was born. This story of mi Tía Alicia being born purple from Josefina’s strain on a bag of corn was a constant point of reference in mi Tía’s life that I heard (re)told often throughout my own childhood and adolescence. The story’s constant repetition in the frequent tellings of family history that made up family dinners in our household is instructive of the story’s meaning to mi Tía y mi familia.

Mi Tía’s life was shaped by circumstances that were common to many working class mestiza, city-born women of her generation in México. Growing up as one of the darkest people out of her four other siblings (she was the oldest, born just ten months – ! – before her younger brother Jorge) and the extended family, she suffered the combined effects of colourism, internalized self-hatred and colonization, and misogyny from both her own family and the broader society she was a part of. She often told the story of how, as a young girl, she had gone to a cousin’s birthday party but as the darkest child there, was refused a piece of chocolate cake by her own tía. She understandably carried a life long hatred of chocolate cake that was only intermittently broken late in life by politely eating my burnt attempts at Betty Crocker cakes I passionately made as a child.

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[Mi Tía Alicia is the oldest girl, centre, sporting a big grin and long wavy hair. Above her is her next closest-in-age sibling, Jorge, followed by mi Abuelita Ernestina to her right, and youngest brothers Manuel (directly in front of her) and Samuel (infant in front of Tina). This photo dates to roughly the mid-1930s]

The daughter of working class, urbanized Mexican parents who laboured with their hands (her father building road scales for trucks, her mother running their household), Alicia and mi Abuelita Ernestina did not finish the sixth grade as it was incorrectly believed that school was “just for sitting” aka because the labour involved in education went “unseen,” you were therefore “lazy.” As the oldest child – and specifically, oldest daughter – of the family, when her mother Josefina passed away early in life it became mi Tía’s responsibility to care for her father. Her (often unwillingly performed) labour in running a household went relatively unacknowledged, and led to her living a somewhat lonely life populated in great part by the various non-human animals she rescued, including geese, ducks, parrots, 100 canaries, a mountain goat, and even a lynx.

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[Mi Tía, sitting, beside mi Abuelita, for someone’s wedding that I should probably ask my mom about but for the moment will remain unknown.]

While she bitterly worked away at caring for her aging father Samuel, her life was, however, filled with other pleasures and rather remarkable events. She was one of the most gifted chefs imaginable who cooked for every family wedding, eventually taking a course or two in specialty baking in later years. She was also extremely lucky in being able to travel widely in her middle age, going to the United States, parts of Western Europe, and even China when it was first opened up for public travel under Communism. The child of parents who lived through the Mexican Revolution and the Great Depression, saving money was one of her greatest skills  and allowed for her to journey out into the world beyond México. Her impact on many people’s lives, including my own, spans literally across decades and borders/fronteras, especially due to the events in her life that took place between the Second World War and the 1980s.

During the Second World War, one of her brothers met a Welsh man serving in the British navy while in the United States. The Welsh man – Herbert, Bert for short – wanted to practice his Spanish, so they exchanged addresses and promised to write to each other. Bert began to write, but his letters went unanswered. Mi Tía, taking pity on this random man’s letters who kept arriving but remained unopened, began to write to Bert. Alicia and Bert wrote to each other over the course of several decades, each living incredibly distinct lives but never missing a letter. Bert went on to return to Wales, marry a woman (sending mi Tía a piece of cake from their wedding in the mail), have children, and move to the small Canadian city of Victoria, BC because he had found it pretty while stopping there during the Second World War.

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[A snapshot of mi Abuelita Tina on the left, and mi Tía Alicia on the right]

Eventually, after many years, Bert and his wife divorced each other and he randomly ended up in México on a missionary trip in the 1980s (ick missionaries I know, but the world is strange). After over two and a half decades of writing each other and Bert sending pictures (but mi Tía never once sending one of herself), Bert decided to go and meet mi Tía in la Ciudad de México. When he arrived, he was greeted by the entire family in true Mexican fashion. Finally meeting in person in their mid-fifties, after hundreds of letters, wedding cake slices, continent relocations, and who knows what else, mi Tía packed a single suitcase and moved to Victoria, BC with Bert – much to the consternation of her own father because what good is patriarchy for if not to scold middle-aged daughters! Mi Tía’s move to Canada was what precipitated my own mother – then just a teenager – to buy a lottery ticket in the airport at her send off, winning just enough money for a plane ticket to visit La Tía and eventually meet my dad, whose own aunt was mi Tía’s (future) neighbour.

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[The world’s happiest holder of a giant papaya, mi Tía Alicia]

Mi Tía lived the rest of her life in Victoria, BC and was one of the integral figures in my life. She helped to raise me, giving my parents the night off to go see the odd movie while my brother and I stayed home to watch animal documentaries and eat all the delicious food imaginable. Some of my fondest memories from childhood involve standing on a stepping stool and being taught how to make tortillas, sopes, and cakes at her side. Despite living a difficult life, she did not do so silently or without complaint. Tía Alicia was well known in my family for being a fighter – both physically and verbally – and for being as stubborn as possible (Taurus born in the Year of the Bull, just as a clue to the level of stubbornness I am talking about!). Her passion for life could not, however, be stifled by the bitterness and self-hatred that she lived with due to her earlier life experiences. For years, she took care of every non-human animal that crossed her path, including buying dog food, boiling eggs, and feeding Maria cookies to the raccoons who frequented her patio for over a decade in Victoria.

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[One of my favourite photos of mi Tía, looking regal as fuck while at the Eaton’s Centre Santa Breakfast in the early 1990s]

Even at the end of her life, she refused to give up her fighting spirit. In the last few months of her life, she became quite ill but refused to go without a fight; Tía Alicia lamented that her hospital bed was placed on the second floor where the windows didn’t open, because she was determined on throwing herself out the window rather than die laying in a bed. Eventually, on April 24, 2008, she passed away, ready to see her sister Ernestina and husband Bert again.

~ M

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[Mi Abuelita Tina, me, y mi Tía Alicia cutting up vegetables in mi Tía’s home, early 1990s.]

Mi Tía Alicia

Terri-Jean Bedford

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[A fantastic photograph of Terri-Jean Bedford with her iconic black riding crop, retrieved from her personal website www.http://terrijeanbedford.com/%5D

Terri-Jean Bedford is a name that many in Canada might recognize, and whom many might question as to whether or not she might count as an “historical hottie” or a contemporary one. We here at Historical Hotties hope to constantly push the boundaries of what constitutes “history” – and that includes forcing us to rethink the lines between past and present, historical and contemporary.

Bedford was born in October 1959, and has spent a large portion of her life working in the sex work industry, most notably as “Canada’s most famous” (in her words) dominatrix and as the former owner/operator of Madame de Sade’s House of Erotica in the Thornhill neighbourhood of Toronto, Ontario. In 1994, fifteen police officers stormed Madame de Sade’s, arresting Bedford (along with several other women) while committing acts of police violence including “pushing and shoving the female dominants, demanding that the accused call them ‘master,’ asking for a demonstration of boot licking, […] ridiculing the sadomasochistic props and clothes” and strip-searching the employees of Madame de Sade’s (Khan, 168). The arrests led to charges of keeping a bawdy house for Bedford. As defined by the Criminal Code, a bawdy house is “a place that is (a) kept or occupied, or (b) resorted to by one or more persons for the purpose of prostitution or the practice of acts of indecency.” However, Bedford and the accused insisted that the legal definitions of prostitution in Canada did not apply, as Bedford specifically mandated that no vaginal or oral sex could take place on the premises (in order to adhere to the law!). During the several trials that resulted from the 1994 arrests made in relation to Madame de Sade’s, Bedford only made legal appearances with her black riding crop in tow, dressed in black leather (like the total boss dom she is).

Bedford has gone on to become prominent in sex work advocacy in Canada and,along with Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch, was involved as an applicant in the high profile case Canada (AG) v Bedford, [2013] 3 SCR 1101. In Canada (AG) v Bedford, Canada’s prostitution laws were struck down, with bawdy house provisions being deemed unconstitutional.

Bedford is known in Canada as a vocal advocate for the rights of sex workers, working tirelessly to ensure that sex workers are treated with dignity and respect both in the proverbial eyes of the law and amongst the general public. Terri-Jean Bedford challenges us to reevaluate how we define whether someone is an historical personage or a contemporary one, and whether or not this distinction even matters. Furthermore, her work and the way she has been treated by the law and broader Canadian society forces us as historians to confront how we deal with questions surrounding desire, sexuality, consent, and sex work that bleed from the past into the present day. Bedford is most definitely a Historical Hottie, and one that makes us especially aware of the role “hotness” plays in different historical contexts of desire and (supposedly) deviant sexualities.

~ M

Bibliography

Canada (AG) v Bedford, [2013] 3 SCR 1101.

Khan, Ummni. “‘Putting a Dominatrix in Her Place’ The Representation and Regulation of Female Dom/Male Sub Sexuality.” The Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 21 (2009):  143-177.

Terri-Jean Bedford