[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 at times 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.
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