Mary Ann Shad Cary
b. 1823, Wilmington, Delaware; d. 1893, Washington, D.C.
Throughout the 1840s and 1850s, Canada was a haven for both slaves and free blacks. Passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which mandated the return of runaway slaves to their owners, no matter where in the Union they were discovered or captured, fueled even greater movement across the U.S.-Canada border. By 1860, an estimated 15,000 blacks had settled in Canada West (Ontario). Pro-emigration newspapers sprang up in black Canadian communities extolling the virtues of living on free soil. One such newspaper was the Provincial Freeman, founded in 1853 by Mary Ann Shadd Cary, the first black woman in North America to edit a newspaper. Born in Delaware to free parents, Cary's childhood home was a stop on the Underground Railroad. At the age of sixteen, she started a school for blacks in Wilmington, then taught in New York City. The Fugitive Slave Act propelled her move to Windsor, Canada, in 1851. She made her presence known with A Plea for Emigration (1852), which raised the hackles of a local black leader named Henry Bibb. Cary had criticized Bibb's Home Refugee Society, and Bibb retaliated from the pulpit of his newspaper, Voice of the Fugitive, slinging the age-old accusation that her behavior was unladylike. There were large issues at stake: Bibb represented the separatist strain in the emancipation movement, Mary the integrationist. Noting the power that Bibb's newspaper gave him, Cary determined to start her own. She enlisted the support of other black leaders and founded the Freeman, which operated until 1859. In its pages, she promoted emigration, self-sufficiency, and integration. While raising money for her venture, she had traveled the lecture circuit in Canada and the U.S., where she joined the women's suffrage movement, and from then on campaigned for women's rights. Cary returned to the United States in 1860 and recruited black soldiers for the Union Army. In 1869, at the age of forty-six, she enrolled in Howard University Law School; because the District of Columbia's legal code limited admission to the bar to men, Cary was not granted a degree until 1883, at the age of sixty. She opened a practice in Washington, D.C., and continued her fight for the rights of women and blacks until her death.
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