Mary Ann Shadd Cary: Another Buried Story Unearthed

October 9, 2020 is the first time I’ve heard the name ‘Mary Ann Shadd Cary’–and I only came across it because of a Google doodle in honour of her 197th birthday.

Such is the quality of the education I received during my years of compulsory education here in Canada.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary was an anti-slavery activist; the first black female publisher in North America; the first female publisher in Canada; the first black woman to vote in a U.S. election; and the second black woman in the U.S. to earn a law degree (at 60 years of age) in the United States; her former Washington, D.C. residence was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1976; the National Women’s History Project (now the National Women’s History Alliance) designated her a Women’s History Month honouree in 1987; and she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998. In Canada, she was designated a Person of Historical Significance, with a plaque in Chatham, Ontario dedicated to her; she features in Canada’s citizenship test guide, which was released in 2009 (page 16); Library and Archives Canada has a Mary Ann Shadd Cary collection, archival reference number R4182 (formerly MG24-K22); Heritage Toronto has marked the place where she published her newspaper, The Provincial Freeman, with a plaque.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary is an important figure in American and Canadian history, but I never learned about her in school, even in the American history class I took in high school. Shadd Cary is yet another example of how the accomplishments and achievements of people who are not white cis heterosexual men (preferably of means) are erased from history’s pages–or at least have been until recently. Now that she features in Canada’s citizenship test guide, I hope schools here in Canada are teaching students about her–or at least allowing students ways of learning about her.

It’s true that history is so often written from the point of view of the victors and those in power, but it’s high time we acknowledge the past in its entirety and the achievements of everyone who lived and did important things, not just a few who fit a certain mold.