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Mary Ann Shadd Cary (Oct 9, 1823 – June 5, 1893) was a writer, an educator, a suffragist, a lawyer, an abolitionist, and the first African American woman in North America to edit and
publish a newspaper.

Born in Wilmington, Delaware, she was raised in a home that often served as a refuge for fugitive slaves. Her parents were abolitionists, but even as free blacks living in the north, they faced deep-seated discrimination and segregation. Because African American children were not allowed to be educated in Delaware, her parents moved the family to Pennsylvania in 1833.

In 1850, when Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, Mary Ann and members of her family left the US for Canada.

“Well-educated, vivacious, with determination shining from her sharp eyes, she threw herself single-handed into the great Canadian pilgrimage when thousands of hunted black man hurried northward and crept beneath the protection of the lion’s paw,” W.E.B Du Bois wrote of Shadd Cary.

When the Civil War began, Mary Ann returned to US and recruited African Americans from the North to fight for the Union Army.

In 1870, she graduated from Howard University with a law degree. She then thrust herself into the suffrage movement, addressing the House Judiciary Committee in January 1874.

Throughout her life, she was at once a powerful force and a woman on the fringe. “This seeming contradiction – that Mary Ann Shadd Cary would be viewed simultaneously as an object of respect and leadership and as an object of derision,” scholar Jane Rhodes wrote, “is central to the story of the African American woman.”