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Mary Ann Shadd



Anti-slavery activist, publisher

Mary Ann Shadd was the founder and editor of the Provincial Freeman, a newspaper established for the black community of Upper Canada that began publication in 1853. She was an outspoken anti-slavery activist and advocate of women’s rights.

Born on October 9, 1823, Mary Ann Shadd was raised in a family of free black abolitionists living in the slave state of Delaware. By 1833 the Shadd family had moved to Pennsylvania where Mary attended a Quaker school for black children. After graduating in 1839, Mary became a teacher at the age of 16.

In 1850 the United States Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act. To escape the threat of unlawful enslavement this act posed, Mary would move to Upper Canada and settled in Windsor, Ontario by 1851. In Windsor she opened a school for black refugees, similarly escaping the threat of enslavement in America.

Mary saw Windsor as a hostile and racially segregated city, describing it as “the most destitute community of coloured people known in this province.” Mary was one of the most outspoken anti-slavery activists in the region. She helped found the Provincial Freeman in 1853, a weekly newspaper for the black community of Upper Canada. Although listed on the masthead as “M.A. Shadd, Publishing Agent,” in reality Mary was the editor of the paper.

In 1854 Mary publically corrected the misapprehension that “M.A. Shadd” was a man. After clarifying that she was the editor of the Provincial Freeman, the newspapers suffered a backlash of sexist discrimination from readers and other publishers. Mary resigned from the newspaper shortly afterwards, bidding “Adieu” to Freeman readers in the August 22, 1855 edition of the paper. After leaving the Provincial Freeman Mary resumed her teaching career in Chatham, Ontario. In 1856 she wed Thomas F. Cary of Toronto.

During the American Civil War, Shadd returned to the United States to recruit black soldiers for the Union army. After the war, Mary (now a widow after the death of Cary in 1860) moved to Washington, D.C. where she taught school for many years, worked for the welfare of emancipated blacks, and studied law at Harvard University. She graduated Harvard in 1883 at the age of 60. Shadd would also join the National Woman Suffrage Association and worked alongside Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Staton. Mary Shadd died of cancer in 1893; she was 70 years old.


– Born on October 9, 1823.
– Shadd’s family moved to Pennsylvania in 1833.
– Moved to Windsor, Ontario and opened school for black refugees in 1851.
– Founded the Provincial Freeman in 1853.
– Publically corrected the misapprehension that “M.A. Shadd” was a man in 1854.
– Resigned from the Provincial Freeman August 22, 1855.
– Married Thomas F. Cary in 1856.
– Graduated Harvard in 1883.
– Died of cancer age the age of 70 in 1893.


Resources available at the library:

The Story Of Mary Ann Shadd by Robin Breon (1988)

From Midnight to Dawn: The Last Tracks Of The Underground Railroad by Jacqueline Tobin (2007)

Mary Ann Shadd Cary: The Black Press and Protest In The Nineteenth Century by Jane Rhodes (1998)

Mary Ann Shadd: Publisher, Editor, Teacher, Lawyer, Suffragette by Rosemary Sadlier (1995)

"Mary Ann Shadd"

Vinyl and Acrylic on  1/2" Plexiglass

24" Diameter

Christy Litster, 2017

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