Mary Ann Shadd was born in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1823. Her father worked for an abolitionist (anti-slavery) newspaper and was a member of the Underground Railroad, helping escaped slaves.
Mary Ann followed in her father's footsteps. Along with her abolitionist activities, she started a newspaper and wrote many articles and reports.
After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 that made it difficult to help escaped slaves, the Shadd family moved to Canada. Mary Ann continued her work from there and encouraged other African Americans to cross the border to freedom.
It was in Canada that Mary Ann Shadd started a newspaper called The Provincial Freeman, a weekly paper for African Americans. Not only was Shadd one of the first female journalists in Canada, she was the first Black woman in North America to publish a newspaper. Shadd did not take credit for the articles she wrote. For a long time, she hid the fact that the paper was run by a woman.
Education was also important to Shadd. As well as starting the newspaper, she set up a school that was open to children of all races. She taught there as well.
Soon after Mary Ann's husband, Thomas Cary, died in 1860, the Civil War began. Mary Ann returned to the United States to help the Union. She encouraged African Americans to join the fight against the Confederacy and against slavery.
After the war, Mary Ann developed an interest in the law. In 1883, at the age of 60, she became the second African American woman in the United States to earn a law degree.
Mary Ann Shadd Cary died in 1893 in Washington, D.C. She has been recognized as an important civil rights figure in both Canada and the United States.