The 28 Faces of Black Women – Mary Ann Shadd

This month marks the first day of Black History month. As a sorority who believe in “Excellence Through Unity”, it is only fitting that we take the time to present some of the notable women in African-American History.

Each day this month, we will present a short biography on famous, inspiring, and world-changing African-American women throughout history.

Today, we introduce you to the  first Black woman editor of a newspaper in North America – Mary Ann Shadd.

Mary Ann Shad

Mary Ann Shadd (Cary) used her gift of writing to influence readers to her anti-slavery ideology. She spoke against those who misused freed slaves and taught freed slaves how to be self-reliant. During the 1850’s the Fugitive Slave Law was pass, and Mary Ann moved to Canada. It was here that Mary found a segregated school in Canada, and join abolitionist Mary & Henry Bibb in the fight against exploitative anti-slavery agents, better know as “begging agents.” Mary was not a fan of Black Southern ministry and other African-Americans who did not support and teach intellectual growth and self-reliance to their own. Because of this, Mary was inspired to write “Notes on Canada West” to persuade her people to come to Canada. She also separated herself from the ideas of the Bibb’s, and founded the Provincial Freeman paper where she in turn challenged Bibb’s wish for separation. Shadd used the paper to discuss all aspects of Black life in Canada. The paper exposed all aspects of segregation and discrimination in Canada. In 1855 Shadd was the first woman to speak at the National Negro Convention. Frederick Douglass said that she gave one of the most convincing and telling speeches in favor of Canadian immigration. Shadd would eventually abandon her belief in immigration but would support a strong desire for Black autonomy and support her belief in Black self-help.

After the decline of her paper, Mary moved to Washington D.C. and served as a recruiting officer for the Union Army, promoting Black nationalism. In Washington, Mary established a school for Black children and attended Howard University Law School; she became the first Black female lawyer in the United States when she graduated in 1870.

As a lawyer she worked for the right to vote and was one of few woman to receive the right to vote in federal elections. She organized the Colored Women’s Progressive Franchise in 1880 which was dedicated to women’s rights.

Thank you Mary Ann Shadd for paving the way for other African-American women editors!