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Canadian History for Kids: Mary Ann Shadd

This Canadian History for Kids exclusive looks at the heroic deeds of Mary Ann Shadd, who was a conductor on the Underground Railroad . This story is a apart of our continuing Black History Month series.

Mary Ann Shadd

Mary Ann Shadd was born on October 9, 1823 in Wilmington, Delaware the eldest of 13 children. Her parents were free African Americans and raised their children to be dedicated to the abolition of slavery.

As a child, Mary’s father’s shoemaking business was known to be a part of the underground railway. She encountered many frightened slaves fleeing to Canada.

The education of black people was illegal in Delaware at the time, so in 1833, the Shadd family moved and Mary attended a Quaker school for black children in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

After completing her studies in 1839, Mary became a teacher at the age of 16. For the next decade, she established or taught in schools for black children in several free and slave states.

Mary immigrated northward to Canada with one of her brothers when the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was passed. The law declared all runaway slaves were to be returned to their owners once caught. It also threatened free blacks with the danger of being re-sold into slavery!

In 1851, she settled in Windsor and opened a racially integrated school which was open to all who could afford to attend (education was not publicly provided at that time). She also became an activist in the abolitionist movement.

She became known as “The Rebel” as she lectured throughout Canada and the United States, seeking aid for runaway slaves and encouraging them to move to Canada.

Mary founded the weekly publication, The Provincial Freeman, with Samuel Ward, becoming the first black woman in North America to edit a weekly paper. This paper was used to inform people about the successes of Black people living in freedom in Canada.

During this time, Mary met Thomas Cary, a barber from Toronto. They were married in 1856. Only a few years and two children later, the American Civil War broke out.

Sadly, her husband died the same year. Mary returned to the States to work as a Union army recruiter for the duration of the war. Prior to returning to the US, Shadd became a Canadian citizen.

Shadd moved to Washington, DC, where she taught, then pursued a law degree. At the age of 60 she finished law school at Howard University in Washington, becoming the first black female lawyer in all of the United States.

Mary Ann Shadd, this amazing ambassador for African American rights and women’s rights died in 1893, leaving behind a remarkable legacy.

Keep following Canadian History for Kids, as we continue to bring you articles for our Black History Month special.

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