Mary Ann Shadd Cary was born into an elite free black community in the 19th century. Due to her economically privileged upbringing, she was able to occupy positions of power and became a teacher, abolitionist and activist to diminish poverty among black Canadians. She left the United States in 1851 to flee to Canada in order to contribute in freeing black slaves and better the lives of women. Shadd Cary made tremendous contributions to women’s rights and the abolition of black slavery; although, the challenges prevailed and risks that she encountered from individuals with privilege ultimately were secluded due to the binary of racism and sexism. Shadd Cary’s consistent efforts to create a better environment for women and black individuals set a precedent for future activists encountering similar marginalization.
The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act “made the capture and return of escaped slaves a matter for federal law” forcing Northern states to withdraw their rights from the Constitution and cooperate with the new legislation (Calloway-Thomas 241). Subsequent to passing this law, Shadd Cary moved to Canada, bringing her ideas on black abolitionism with her. She fought against those who did not share her beliefs and challenged the male leaders willingly. While several men who ran newspapers were supporting thee Fugitive Slave Act and segregated schools, she campaigned against them vigorously as she knew that these systems would destroy a healthy community. Ultimately Shadd Cary decided to share her own views through a newspaper and took over The Provincial Freeman in 1854 (Yee 6). As a role model and political writer she was able to effectively run an antislavery newspaper as the first women to edit a newspaper. She publicly argued that she needed to find a safer environment for blacks where they can also receive an education. Through Shadd Cary’s innovative newspaper, she was able to promote Canada as a safe home and share her antislavery views publicly.
Soon after Shadd Cary moved to Canada, she began protesting to abolish black separation from whites. She wrote letters to powerful male leaders saying that “she was utterly opposed .. to any form of racial separation” (Yee 7). She and her sister-in-law, Amelia Freeman Shadd, would not accept the separation and choose to open their own school. Though advertisements they sated that “no complexional distinctions will be made”, showing the community that they refused to accept either legal segregation or black schools and churches initiating separation (Yee 7). Although her vision was much larger than Canada, her efforts made a statement and a start to abandoning the antiquated system.
In 1851, Shadd Cary began campaigning to encourage black immigration to Canada (Calloway-Thomas 245). The impact of the Fugitive Slave Act caused increased violence and heightened the need to move to Canada. It also scared slaveholders which resulted in them portraying Canada extremely negatively. This enforced the idea that blacks could not live in Canada. Shadd Cary demanded to change this, and made a counterargument that challenged the negative portrayal. She provided evidence to substantiate that Canada was a safe place for blacks, that they could thrive in, both economically and socially. Throughout her rigorous efforts to provide American slaves with new knowledge, she was able to succeed in communicating the truth. This ultimately led to thousands of slaves relocating to Canada (Cali 35). Mary Ann Shadd Cary’s heroic and continuous efforts to promote black immigration to Canada made history in fighting for the rights of black individuals.
As a women in the 19th century, Shadd Cary excelled as an female activist. After earning a degree in law, she devoted much of her time to women’s rights. She was a supporter of women suffrage in the United States in the 1950s (Calloway-Thomas 11). As a newspaper editor and political writer with some economic privilege, she was able to publish suffrage activities. This was vital in spreading knowledge as it was very rare for a powerful man to publish these updates. Furthermore, Shadd Cary testified to the House Judiciary Committee in regards to the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, showing her support for them while arguing that they must not insert the word male within the Amendments (Calloway-Thomas 11). She fought intensely for equal rights between men and women as well as blacks and whites. This also involved her participation in as representative of the Associate for the Advancement of Women, political activism, the Philadelphia Coloured Convention, and the National Women Suffrage Association. Through her advancements within sexism, other women were able to learn and benefit from her dedication.
As a black woman, Shadd Cary was subject to sexist ideologies that presented her with challenges to gain the rights that a white man would be given. Although she emerged from a privileged family, this was unable to protect her from “the raced and gendered discrimination she faced while participating in movements in which race and racial equality were framed as male and in which sexual equality was framed as white” (Cali 33). These sexist and racist ideas prevented her to gain rights as the system in place refused equality to black women. Though her family, activist and professional relationships helped her to become a educator, newspaper editor and activist, “none of this privilege translated to her protection from the raced and gendered hegemony that governed public opinion and ideology in the mid-nineteenth-century” (Cali 34). Shadd Cary took extensive risks in order to overcome this ideology, as women in this time were not supposed to stray from social norms.
Shadd Cary received constant criticism that was highly gendered. She faced these battles simply because she was a woman and in the public sphere. By speaking out abut antislavery it aided her in having a voice on women’s rights. Henry Bibb, an antislavery newspaper writer, of used his newspaper to discredit Shadd Cary’s work. This shows how the system of power works as even though they both believed in antislavery, Bibb as a man, had to discredit her and make her views seem unimportant. Bibb’s criticism continued when her questioned her character publicly, claiming she was “disreputable and unladylike” (Cali 35). Calling her character into question was to benefit him, as if she was seen as he described her, she would ultimately fail.
A major accomplishment of Shadd Cary’s was speaking at the 1855 National Coloured Convention in Philadelphia (Cali 35). She was able to discuss black rights and gender conventions in hopes of challenging them and bringing them to a halt. Following this accomplishment, the British Banner publicly stated that “such conferences are not the place for a woman” and that she should have “hastened to hide herself amid the soft obscurities of her own sex” (Cali 35). This article was said to be expected considering a woman was not that of a speaker or writer and several individuals who supported her activist work refused to disagree with the statement. Men spoke against her “feminist agenda” and denied her the rights she was desperate for (Cali 36). These sexist views continue into todays society as it is what puts women apart from men as academics, novelists, activists, and individuals.
In order for Mary Ann Shadd Cary to be able to hold equal rights to whites and males, the system of power would need to be changed drastically. While the change she fought for did not overcome the powerful system in place, she participated in a movement that was necessary for it to someday happen. Shadd Cary and other black and female activists risked their lives in order to ensure that individuals would not have the same treatment they faced. They were denied these rights due to primarily whites refusing to treat them as equals and men having disbelief and disgust in women wanting to have a voice. Shadd Cary refusing to listen to her peers has made a difference for many individuals in even after her death.
Mary Ann Shadd Cary utilized her privilege to gain a position of power to lead blacks and women to their freedom. Her contributions to the black movements and women’s movements are extraordinary for the time she lived. Her work from opening a integrated school, being the first woman newspaper editor, and consistently speaking out against inequality bettered the lives of many. Although she faced challenged and risks due to her gender and race, she continued to fight for these rights until she died. Mary Ann Shadd Cary’s work has pervaded into the present and is looked upon as a hero by many.