By: Brooke Downey
Born to free parents in 1823, Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893) spent her life fighting against slavery and for the advancement of Black people in North America.
Her activism began early with her parents who were supporters of the Underground Railway. However, Shadd Cary began her own activist work when she open a school for Black children in the slave state of Delaware. This would be the beginning of a lifelong commitment to education for people of colour.
Shadd Cary made her mark in Canada when she and many other escaped and free slaves sought refuge here when the Fugitive Slave Act (1850) was passed. Here she established her own newspaper – the first woman to do so in Canada and the first Black woman to do so in North America.
For the next few decades Shadd Cary continued her advocacy work through her teaching and was a frequent presence at conferences related to abolition, integration, and the promotion of Black communities in North America. She returned to the U.S. where she helped recruit Black soldiers for the Civil War and in 1883 she became the second Black woman to earn a law degree in the U.S.
Portrait by Emma Jenkin