Mary Ann Shadd: The Story of a Trailblazer
By: Ashley Millar
As a white, young woman in Canada I am privileged to have freedom of belief and expression; where I can speak my mind and share my beliefs. These are aspects of my life which I, along with so many people, take for granted everyday. For generations before me, women and specifically Black Canadians were oppressed because they were seen as insignificant members of society. As history shows though, when oppressed there are those few people who take a stand against their oppressors to create a change for the better. Mary Ann Shadd was one of these trailblazers, who was a Black Canadian woman, educator, publisher, lawyer and abolitionist living during the time of the Underground Railroad (“Mary Ann Shadd”).
Mary Ann Shadd was born in 1823 in Wilmington, Delaware to parents who were abolitionists involved in the Underground Railroad (Collections Canada). When she was 16 years old, Mary Ann Shadd organized a school for black youth in North Carolina (“Biography”). She preached her beliefs on racial equality, believing that “education, thrift and hard work were means by which black [people] could achieve racial parity, and thus integration in America” (“Biography”). From an early age, Mary Ann Shadd used her writing to share her beliefs in how to achieve racial integration in society. In her 1849 essay, “Hints of the coloured people of the North,” Mary Ann Shadd implored black people to “take initiative in anti-slavery reform without waiting for white people to provide benefice or support” (“Biography”). Mary Ann Shadd’s core value was to achieve black independence and maintain self-respect (“Biography” ). In 1851, Mary Ann Shadd moved to Windsor, where she opened a racially integrated school funded by the American Missionary Association. Unfortunately, the American Missionary Association did not agree with Mary Ann Shadd’s beliefs of an integrated society and stopped public funding, causing her to close the school. However, Mary Ann Shadd did not give up and began spending more time on her writing. In the summer of 1852, she published “A Plea for Emigration,” where she encouraged Black Americans to emigrate to Canada where they could be free. In 1853 along with fellow black abolitionist Samuel Ringgold Ward, Mary Ann Shadd published her first newspaper, The Provincial Freeman. The newspaper’s motto was “Self-Reliance is the true road to independence,” (“Mary Ann Shadd”). Mary Ann Shadd used the newspaper to encourage the abolition of slavery, racial equality, racial integration and women’s rights (Collections Canada). She was the first Black woman in North America to publish and edit a newspaper and one of the first female journalists in Canada (“Mary Ann Shadd”). AIn 1863, she returned to the United States where she served as an enlistment recruiter for the American Civil War and encouraged Black Americans to fight for the abolition of slavery (“Biography”). After the war ended, Mary Ann Shadd returned to teaching, believing that she could best serve her people by helping to educate and integrate the millions of newly freed Black people (“Biography”). In 1883, Mary Ann Shadd received a law degree from Howard University, becoming one of the first black women to complete a law degree (Collections Canada).
Canada is known for our diverse heritage and identity, but we have not always been this way. Only through the work and achievement of trailblazers like Mary Ann Shadd have we been able to overcome adversity and become a country where the diversity of different people and cultures makes us one nation. Mary Ann Shadd was a strong, Black Canadian woman who fought for what she believed in. Mary Ann Shadd advocated for the abolition of slavery and the integration and acceptance of black people in both Canadian and American society. We will never truly know the extent of how much trials and tribulations Mary Ann Shadd had to face, but we are able to see that she never let them get in the way of her advocation for equality of all people. Mary Ann Shadd was one for the few trailblazers in Canadians history who fought for what she believed in. Mary Ann Shadd’s advocacy for change resulted in Canada’s diverse heritage and identity, and as a trailblazer she inspired many people to create change for a better nation.
“Biography – SHADD, MARY ANN CAMBERTON – Volume XII (1891-1900) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography.” Home – Dictionary of Canadian Biography, www.biographi.ca/en/bio.php?BioId=40547.
“Common Menu Bar Links.” ARCHIVED - Daily Life: Shelter - Inuit - Explore the Communities - The Kids' Site of Canadian Settlement - Library and Archives Canada, www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/northern-star/033005-2201-e.html.
“Mary Ann Shadd.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/mary-ann-shadd.