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Mary Ann Shadd Cary
(Photo: Courtesy of National Archives of Canada, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Mary Ann Shadd Cary

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Mary Ann Shadd Cary was an active abolitionist and the first female African American newspaper editor in North America.

Who Was Mary Ann Shadd Cary?

Abolitionist Mary Ann Shadd Cary became the first female African American newspaper editor in North America when she started the Black newspaper The Provincial Freemen. Later in life, she became the second African American woman in the United States to earn a law degree.

Early Life

Mary Ann Shadd Cary was born Mary Ann Shadd on October 9, 1823, in Wilmington, Delaware. The eldest of 13 children, Shadd Cary was born into a free African American family. Her father worked for the abolitionist newspaper called the Liberator run by famed abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and provided help to escaped enslaved people as a member of the Underground Railroad. Shadd Cary would grow up to follow in her father's footsteps. Along with her abolitionist activities, she became the first female African American newspaper editor in North America.

Shadd Cary was educated at a Quaker school in Pennsylvania, and she later started her own school for African Americans. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law, she went to Canada with one of her brothers. Not long after, the entire Shadd family moved there. In 1852, Shadd Cary wrote a report encouraging other African Americans to make the trek north to Canada.

Founding 'The Provincial Freemen'

It was in Canada that Shadd Cary started a newspaper called The Provincial Freemen, a weekly publication for African Americans, especially escaped enslaved people. She wrote many of the articles herself, and often returned to the United States to gather information for the paper.

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In addition to creating a newspaper, Shadd Cary established a school that was open to children of all races. While living in Canada, she met Thomas F. Cary. The couple married in 1856 and had two children. He died only a few years later.

Later Years and Death

When the Civil War broke out, Shadd Cary returned to the United States to help in the war effort. In 1863, she worked as a recruiting officer for the Union Army in Indiana, and encouraged African Americans to join the fight against the Confederacy and against slavery. After the war, Cary became a pioneering spirit in a new direction, earning a law degree in 1883 from Howard University. She was the second African American woman in the United States to earn this degree.

Shadd Cary died in 1893 in Washington, D.C.

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