MARCH 24, 1853

Mary Shadd Cary

Mary Shadd Cary became the first Black female publisher in North America with her anti-slavery newspaper, The Provincial Freeman. Her first published article had come five years earlier when Frederick Douglass asked for suggestions on how to improve the lives of Black Americans. 

“We have been holding conventions for years — we have been assembling together and whining over our difficulties and afflictions, passing resolutions on resolutions to any extent; but it does really seem that we have made but little progress considering our resolves,” she wrote. “We should do more and talk less.” 

The New York Times wrote, “With that statement, Shadd Cary questioned the anti-slavery establishment and helped define a new role for Black women. But her work didn’t end there.” 

Cary published her weekly newspaper in Canada, the home of 40,000 who had escaped slavery. She sought to break down racial barriers and improve their lives and their education. She took that message across Canada and the U.S., soliciting aid for those who had escaped slavery. It was an issue close to her heart. 

Growing up, her family opened their home as a refuge for those fleeing slavery, and when Delaware refused to educate Black children, she and her family moved to Pennsylvania, where she completed her education in a boarding school. When the Civil War broke out, she became a recruiting officer for the Union Army. After the war ended, she started a school for the children of those freed, believing that education could help free them even more. 

In 1870 she became one of the first Black women to earn a law degree from Howard University. She testified before Congress in support of the 14th and 15th Amendments before throwing herself into the fight for women to vote. 

“I am not vain enough to suppose for a moment that words of mine could add one iota of weight to the arguments from these learned and earnest women,” she told the House Judiciary Committee. Because women are taxpayers, they should have the same rights as the men, she said. 

In 1893, she died of stomach cancer. Her brick-row house is now a National Park Service museum honoring her. Civil rights leader W.E.B. Dubois described the courageous woman as “well-educated, vivacious, with determination shining from her sharp eyes, she threw herself singlehanded into the great Canadian pilgrimage when thousands of hunted black men hurried northward and crept beneath the protection of the lion’s paw.” 

Canada now has a bust of her in BME Freedom Park in Chatham, Ontario.

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