Mary Ann Shadd Cary

About Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Dates: October 9, 1823 - June 5, 1893

Occupation: teacher and journalist; anti-enslavement and women's rights activist; lawyer

Known for: writing about anti-enslavement issues and other political issues; second Black American woman to graduate from law school

Also known as: Mary Ann Shadd

More About Mary Ann Shadd Cary:

Mary Ann Shadd was born in Delaware to parents who were free Black people in what was still a pro-slavery state. Education even for free Black people was illegal in Delaware, so her parents sent her to a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania when she was ten through sixteen years old.


Mary Ann Shadd then returned to Delaware and taught other Black Americans, until the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. Mary Ann Shadd, with her brother and his wife, emigrated to Canada in 1851, publishing "A Plea for Emigration or Notes of Canada West" urging other Black Americans to flee for their safety in light of the new legal situation which denied that any Black person had rights as a U.S. citizen.

Mary Ann Shadd became a teacher in her new home in Ontario, at a school-sponsored by the American Missionary Association. In Ontario, she also spoke out against segregation. Her father brought her mother and younger siblings to Canada, settling in Chatham.


In March of 1853, Mary Ann Shadd began a newspaper to promote emigration to Canada and to serve the Canadian community of Black Americans. The Provincial Freeman became an outlet for her political ideas. The next year she moved the paper to Toronto, then in 1855 to Chatham, where the largest number of freedom seekers and emigrant freemen were living.

Mary Ann Shadd opposed views of Henry Bibb and others who were more separatist and who encouraged the community to consider their stay in Canada as tentative.


In 1856, Mary Ann Shadd married Thomas Cary. He continued to live in Toronto and she in Chatham. Their daughter, Sally, lived with Mary Ann Shadd Cary. Thomas Cary died in 1860. The presence in Canada of the large Shadd family meant that Mary Ann Shadd Cary had support in caring for her daughter while continuing her activism.


In 1855-1856, Mary Ann Shadd Cary gave anti-enslavement lectures in the United States. John Brown held a meeting in 1858 at the home of Cary's brother, Isaac Shadd. After Brown's death at Harper's Ferry, Mary Ann Shadd Cary compiled and published notes from the only survivor of Brown's Harper's Ferry effort, Osborne P. Anderson.

In 1858, her paper failed during an economic depression. Mary Ann Shadd Cary began teaching in Michigan but left for Canada again in 1863. At this time she obtained British citizenship. That summer, she became a recruiter for the Union army in Indiana, finding Black volunteers.

After the Civil War

At the end of the Civil War, Mary Ann Shadd Cary earned a teaching certificate, and taught in Detroit and then in Washington, D.C. She wrote for The National Era, Frederick Douglass' paper, and for John Crowell's the Advocate. She earned a law degree from Howard University, becoming the second Black American woman to graduate from law school.

Women's Rights

Mary Ann Shadd Cary added to her activism efforts the cause of women's rights. In 1878 she spoke at the National Woman Suffrage Association convention. In 1887 she was one of only two Black Americans attending a women's conference in New York. She testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on women and the vote and became a registered voter in Washington.


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

Background, Family

  • Father: Abraham Doras Shadd, shoemaker and anti-enslavement activist
  • Mother: Harriet Parnell Shadd
  • Siblings: twelve younger siblings


  • Price's Boarding School, Chester, Pennsylvania (1832-1839)
  • Howard University, B.A. Law, 1883

Marriage, Children

  • husband: Thomas Cary (married 1856; he died in 1860)
  • one child: Sally Cary
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Your Citation
Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Mary Ann Shadd Cary." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2023, April 5). Mary Ann Shadd Cary. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Mary Ann Shadd Cary." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).