On this day in 1823, Mary Ann Shadd Cary was born in Wilmington, Delaware. She was an educator, editor and abolitionist activist from the United States and the first black woman to become an editor in North America. She was the eldest of 13 siblings and was educated in the Society of Friends, a protestant religious community.
In 1833, the Shadd family moved to Pennsylvania to escape the slave trade. In 1853, Mary Ann founded The Provincial Freeman newspaper in Canada and, although her name appeared as ‘MA Shadd, publishing agent’, she was the lead editor. The following year, Shadd corrected the public misconception that ‘MA Shadd’ was a man and left the newspaper shortly afterwards.
Following in the footsteps of her activist parents, Shadd pursued community activism in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. There, she opened a school for black refugees who, like her, had escaped from the slave trade in the United States. On September 10, 1851, she attended the national convention of black freemen held outside the United States. The year before, the United States had passed the second of the country’s two fugitive slave acts, aimed at recovering the fugitives from states where slavery had been abolished.
After the end of the civil war in 1865, Shadd moved to Washington, where she taught in public schools and fought for the civil rights of African Americans. She enrolled in Howard University, where she studied law and graduated in 1883 at the age of 60. She was the second African American woman to become a lawyer in the United States and worked in the profession for four years.
Towards the end of her life, Shadd ran conferences and actively participated in the fight for social justice. As a result of her contributions to society and history, she was honoured as a Person of National Historical Importance in Canada in 1994.