Mary Ann Shadd
Activist, publisher, abolitionist and educator are just a few of the many titles that can be attributed to Mary Ann Shadd (Yarhi, 2015). This impactful and inspiring women is a prime example of the many black Canadians whose actions and beliefs contributed both directly and indirectly to the diversification and development of Canadian society.
She was born in October, 1823, in Wilmington, Delaware to Harriet and Abraham Shadd, who were free from slavery (Thomson, 2005), however, undoubtedly not from the burdens that are associated with living in a society in which you were viewed as an object rather than a human being.
Shadd’s activism started young, when at only seventeen she opened a school for black children in West Chester, Pennsylvania (Silverman, 1990). Along with her father, who was a political activist in his own right and was involved with the Underground Railroad (Shadd, 2008), Shadd believed strongly that education of black children was a vital step towards racial equality (Silverman, 1990). She continued teaching in the northeastern United States until 1851 (Silverman, 1990), at which point she moved to Windsor, Ontario, (which was at that time called Sandwich) (Yarhi, 2015) to pursue further political activism.
Upon her arrival in Canada, she started a racially integrated school with financial assistance from the American Missionary Association (Yarhi, 2015). She also began writing pamphlets about the benefits of black Americans emigrating to Canada, which eventually evolved into her publishing a weekly newspaper, The Provincial Freeman, starting on March 24th, 1853 (Yarhi, 2015). This paper, which fought strongly against segregation and for complete racial equality, solidified Shadd’s place as the first black female newspaper publisher in North America and one of the first Canadian female journalists (Yarhi, 2015). However, to disguise the fact the paper was published by a woman, fellow abolitionist Samuel Ringgold Ward was solely named the official editor, despite the fact that he shared this role with Shadd (Yarhi, 2015). The paper’s motto was “Self-Reliance is the True Road to Independence,” (Silverman, 1990) which perfectly encompasses Shadd’s intrinsic drive and determined personality. Unfortunately, after a tumultuous decade in which funding ebbed and flowed (Silverman, 1990), the paper was no longer financially viable and stopped production in 1960 (Yarhi, 2015). This does not, however, degrade the impact the paper undoubtedly had over its near decade of publication.
Still determined to continue fighting for black rights, Shadd returned to the United States in 1863 to become an enlistment recruiter for the American Civil War. She returned to Canada, however, in 1881 to assist in the organization of a suffragist rally (Silverman, 1990) before attending Howard University in 1883 to become one of the earliest African American women to attain a degree in law (Yarhi, 2015), showing that her desire to be an active advocate for disadvantaged peoples continued throughout her life.
From her encouragement of immigration of African Americans to Canada to her determination and activism that opened the door for people of both her race and gender, Shadd certainly exemplifies the contribution of black Canadians to Canada’s present diverse culture. Her story also highlights the immense value of immigration in the development of society and is certainly one whom Canadians should be proud to have as a part of their history.
Shadd, A. (2008, January 2). Mary Ann Shadd Cary: Abolitionist. Retrieved from www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/northern-star/033005-2201-e.html.
Silverman, J. H. (1990). Shadd, Mary Ann Camberton (Cary). Retrieved from http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/shadd_mary_ann_camberton_12E.html.
Thompson, G. (2005). Mary Ann Shadd Cary 1823-1893. Retrieved from https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/historians-and-chronicles/historians-miscellaneous-biographies/mary-ann-shadd-cary.
Yarhi, E. (2015, July 14). Mary Ann Shadd. Retrieved from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/mary-ann-shadd.