Mary Ann Shadd, A Canadian Jewel
As Canadians, we often overlook our own historical past and the groups of people who have helped write our nation's story. Not only did Mary Ann Shadd aid in writing Canada’s diverse history but she also had a significant impact on the fight for equality and women's rights. Through her actions, Mary Ann Shadd was able to reshape and redefine what it means to be Canadian. Shadd assisted in creating a culture where all Canadians are treated equally, as she opened a racially integrated school for all who could afford to attend. Moreover, by becoming the first Black woman to open and publish a successful newspaper, Shadd also demonstrated the importance of showcasing the many success stories of all those immigrating to Canada. Shadd was a fearless leader in breaking gender and racial stereotypes when she became not only one of the first women to earn a university law degree, but the first Black woman to vote in a national election.
According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, in her early beginnings of coming to Canada and obtaining citizenship, Shadd decided to follow in her parents’ footsteps, as they were civil rights activists who aided those in the Underground Railroad. Using the same compassion and drive she witnessed in her parents, Shadd opened a racially integrated school in Windsor, Ontario in 1851 (Yarhi). At the time, the majority of schools were segregated, and only wealthy, predominantly white Canadians could obtain an education. However, Shadd allowed anyone who could afford to pay attend her school. Shadd was able to provide those who were in the minority with a means of succeeding in life through the power of education. Shadd’s ingenuity began a chain reaction that broke the vicious cycle of segregation that trapped many uneducated Black Canadians (Yarhi). By offering the education needed to obtain better paying jobs, Shadd aided her Black community in realising their full potential to positively impact Canadian society.
Due to the Underground Railroad, Canada was becoming a very diverse nation as freedom seekers sought refuge from slavery. To help showcase and promote emigration in Canada's western provinces, in 1853, Shadd became North America’s first female journalist when she started a weekly newspaper called The Provincial Freeman (Yarhi). Shadd used her publication to highlight the many success stories of all those who immigrated to Canada. This newspaper was a means for Black Canadians to stay up to date on what was happening in their communities both in Canada and in the United States. Shadd became a voice for the voiceless, since most newspapers did not report on racially charged issues or stories that affected the Black community. As well, through her publication, Shadd was able to promote gender equality during a time in Canadian history where women had limited rights. Shadd was able to break society’s race and gender stereotypes by demonstrating that everyone has the right to freedom of speech regardless of one’s gender, level of education or race.
During her lifetime, Shadd was a woman of many ‘firsts’. She moved back to the United States to pursue of her own education and as of 1883, she was the first Black woman to complete a law degree at Howard University (Yarhi). In doing so, she became a mentor for women and minorities by proving that hard work and determination leads to success regardless of one’s race or gender. Not only was Shadd the first Black woman to earn a law degree, she was also the first Black woman to vote in a national election (blackhistorycanada.ca). Shadd’s academic and political achievements helped pave the way for other trailblazing women by breaking the stigma surrounding women and people of colour, as seen in our Canadian history. Her tenacity and drive sparked a ripple effect in the suffrage movement. Shadd’s accomplishments proved to all that women and people of colour are intelligent, capable individuals.
Since her death in 1893, Mary Ann Shadd’s influence continues as her progressive and forward-thinking actions and ideologies are witnessed throughout Canadian society. Thanks in part to Mary Ann Shadd, Canada is a country that celebrates its diversity and boasts equal opportunities for all. We are a nation where education is a right, where our freedom of speech is upheld, and where women and minorities hold an essential role within society. Mary Ann Shadd not only influenced those of her time, but her fearless leadership continues to positively impact all Canadians today and in the future.
“Mary Ann Shadd.” Black History Canada, www.blackhistorycanada.ca/profiles.php?themeid=20&id=5. Accessed 6 December 2018.
Yarhi, Eli. “Mary Ann Shadd.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/mary-ann-shadd. Accessed 6 December 2018.