Born in Wilmington, DE, the eldest of 13 children of free Negros, (as African-Americans were then known,) Mary Ann was a role model for women in education and law. She was the second black woman in the United States to earn a law degree. She attended Howard School of Law and graduated at the age of 60 in 1883! (I am pretty sure she was one of our oldest law-school graduates!) Mary Ann devoted her life to abolition and became the first African-American woman to edit a weekly newspaper. Not only was she a teacher, she established schools for blacks in Wilmington, DE, West Chester, PA, New York and New Jersey.

During the Civil War, she served as a recruiting officer to enlist black volunteers for the Union Army. After the Civil War, Mary Ann fought for women suffrage, and became the first black woman to cast a vote in a National Election. As an attorney and editor and a feminist, she dedicated her life to improving the quality of life for everyone, black, white, male and female.

She authored and published “A Plea For Emigration,” and became the first woman publisher in North America. When the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 threatened to return free northern blacks and escaped slaves into bondage, Mary Ann and her brother Isaac moved to Canada.

With the support of the American Missionary Association, she ran an anti-slavery newspaper called, ”The Provincial Freedom,” which made Mary Ann Shadd Cary the first female editor in North America. She traveled through the United States and Canada advocating for full racial integration through education and self-reliance. In 1855, Mary Ann attempted to participate in the Philadelphia Colored Convention; the assembly of men debated even allowing her to sit as a delegate and was only admitted by a small margin of 45 votes. She was allowed to speak and was so well-received that her fellow delegates allocated her an additional 10 minutes. But her speech was omitted from the minutes because she was a woman!

Mary Ann joined the National Suffrage Association working alongside Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and testified before the Judiciary Committe of the House of Representatives.