Writer, educator, lawyer, abolitionist and the first black newspaperwoman in North America, Mary Ann Shadd Cary lived in this brick row house from 1881 to 1885. Cary was one of the most outspoken and articulate female proponents of the abolition of slavery of her day, and promoted equality for all people. Mary Ann Shadd was born in Wilmington, Delaware in October of 1823. The oldest of 13 children, Mary was raised in a family dedicated to the abolition of slavery and her childhood home often served as a shelter for fugitive slaves. As the education of blacks was forbidden in Delaware, the Shadds moved to Pennsylvania in 1833 where Mary began school and attended a Quaker Boarding School until 1839. For the next 12 years, Mary taught black children in Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania.
In 1850 with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law, Mary Shadd and her brother Isaac emigrated from the United States to Canada along with scores of other African Americans who believed Canada offered better and greater opportunities. While there, Mary published a pamphlet titled "Notes on Canada West" that was widely circulated in the United States, in which she extolled the values, benefits and opportunities favorable to blacks in the region. In 1853, Mary founded Canada's first-antislavery newspaper, the Provincial Freeman. This weekly publication encouraged blacks to emigrate to Canada. Cary lectured widely in Canada and the United States to increase subscription and to publicly solicit aid for runaway slaves, at great risk to her own personal welfare. The dynamic young female editor was known as "The Rebel" to her family and friends.
In 1856, Mary Shadd married a Toronto barber, Thomas F. Cary, who was involved with the paper. Little is known of her married years, however, she continued to befriend fugitive slaves and edit the Provincial Freeman. In 1858, John Brown held a secret "convention" at the home of Mary's brother Issac, a meeting that elevated Mary's concern for the anti-slavery cause. In 1861, she published Voice from Harper's Ferry, a tribute to Brown's unsuccessful raid. During the Civil War, Mary Shadd Cary was appointed a Recruiting Officer for the Union Army. Widowed sometime during the war, Mary later moved to Washington, DC, where she taught at public schools. She continued to lecture, focusing on women's rights and the women's suffrage movement. She studied law at Howard University and graduated in June 1883. Little is known of her legal practice, but she is recognized as one of the first black female lawyers in the country. Mary Ann Shadd Cary died in 1893. Though not directly associated with Cary's involvement in the Underground Railroad, her home helps us to better understand her participation in the movement and her lifelong advocacy for the equality of all people.
The Mary Ann Shadd Cary House is located at 1421 W Street, NW in Washington, DC. It is not open to the public.