Hidden Women

Mary Ann Shadd Cary – Abolitionist, Editor, Lawyer

This is one of the Women that I have added to my “Obscure Women” series. Mrs. Cary was a true champion for human rights, regardless of race or gender. A perfect example of someone who was of the elite class using their wealth, and status for the good of the people!

Today in 1823, Mary Ann Shadd Cary was born in Wilmington, DE. She was a Black educator and administrator. The eldest of 13 children of free Black parents, she received an education from the Pennsylvania Quakers. Cary devoted the first part of her life to being an abolition, working with fugitive slaves, and becoming the first African-American woman in North America to edit a weekly newspaper, the Provincial Freeman. This newspaper was devoted to displaced Americans living in Canada. She then became a teacher, establishing or teaching in schools for Negroes in Wilmington; West Chester, PA; New York; Morristown, NJ; and Canada. She was also the first woman to speak at a national African American convention.

Before and during the Civil War Mrs. Cary battled with her male counterparts over her right to have an authoritative voice as well as insisted on a role in black community politics. Also during the Civil War, Cary helped recruit African-American soldiers for the Union Army. In Washington, D.C., she established a school for Black children. She would embark on her second career, when she attended Howard University Law School. She became the first Black female lawyer in the United States when she graduated in 1870.

She fought alongside Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton for women’s suffrage, testifying before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives. As a lawyer, she worked for the right to vote and was one of the few women to receive the right to vote in federal elections. She organized the Colored Women’s Progressive Franchise in 1880, which was dedicated to women’s rights. As an educator, abolitionist, editor, attorney, and feminist, she dedicated her life to improving the quality of life for everyone black, white, male and female. Truly a woman before her time!

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