Mary Ann Shadd Cary was born in Wilmington, DE, in October 1823 to a free family dedicated to the abolition of slavery. Since the education of blacks was difficult in the slave state of Delaware, her family moved to West Chester, PA, in 1833 where Mary Ann Shadd studied at the Friends-sponsored Price's Boarding School. Mary Ann studied there until 1839 when she returned to Wilmington to conduct a private school for black children. She continued teaching for the next 12 years in Wilmington, New York City, and Norristown, PA.
In 1850, with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law, Mary Ann Shadd, her brother Isaac, and her father Abraham emigrated to Canada to assist freedom seekers. In Windsor she opened a school for blacks and prepared a pamphlet for freedom seekers. She began to lecture throughout the U.S. and Canada and tried to influence freedom seekers to settle in Canada where they "could be free and prosper". She and another well-known abolitionist Ringgold Ward founded the non-sectarian Provincial Freedom in 1853. Shadd served as editor from 1854-1857. The paper expressed her belief in integration with the larger community and her vision of Canada as a refuge.
Mary continued to write, lecture, and teach throughout her life. She returned to the United States and recruited black soldiers for the Union army. She was the first woman to enroll in Howard University Law School and the first African-American woman to enroll in any Law School in the United States. She died in 1893 and was buried in Harmony Cemetery, Washington D.C.