Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Portrait of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Library and Archives Canada

Portrait of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Library and Archives Canada

Mary Ann Shadd Cary was an anti-slavery activist, Canada’s first Black newspaper publisher, and an advocate for women’s rights. The eldest daughter of free parents and supporters of the Underground Railroad, she opened a school for Black children in the slave state of Delaware. When the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed, many escaped slaves and freed Blacks, including Shadd Cary, sought refuge in Canada. She lived first in Windsor, opening a school and establishing the Provincial Freeman newspaper, with the motto “Self-Reliance is the True Road to Independence.” In 1854, she moved to Toronto, where she met her husband and continued her work in publishing, writing and teaching.

Shadd Cary attended and spoke at conferences on abolition, integration, and the welfare of Black communities in both Canada and the United States. In 1855, she spoke as a delegate at the Philadelphia Colored Convention and was so persuasive that she was given an additional 10 minutes to speak.

Widowed with children by 1860, she returned to the United States in 1863 to recruit Black soldiers for the Union army during the American Civil War. After the war, she remained in the United States, teaching and continuing her civil rights activism. In 1883, she became the first Black woman to earn a law degree from Howard University.

As part of the digital version of this exhibition, Heritage Toronto is pleased to include the film, Mary Ann Shadd Revisited: Echoes from an Old House, produced by Allison Smith, about a collection of letters to and from the African American abolitionist during her time in Canada. To learn more about the film, please read Allison’s reflections on the website


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