Lesson Plan

Discover the Mary Ann Shadd Cary House: A Lightning Lesson from Teaching with Historic Places

Overall Rating

Add your review
Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
60 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
6-8.RH.1, 6-8.RH.2, 6-8.RH.4, 6-8.RH.5, 6-8.RH.7, 6-8.RH.9, 6-8.RH.10, 9-10.RH.1, 9-10.RH.2, 9-10.RH.3, 9-10.RH.4, 9-10.RH.5, 9-10.RH.7, 9-10.RH.9, 9-10.RH.10, 11-12.RH.1, 11-12.RH.2, 11-12.RH.4, 11-12.RH.5, 11-12.RH.8, 11-12.RH.10
Additional Standards:
From the National Center for History in the Schools: US History Era 4
• Standard 4A: The student understands the abolitionist movement
• Standard 4C: The student understands changing gender roles and the ideas and activities of women reformers
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

Were free African Americans, living in the US before the Civil War, truly “free”?


1. Explain connections between African American migration patterns in the 1800s and events including the Fugitive Slave Act, Dredd Scott decision, and Reconstruction;
2. Describe Mary Ann Shadd Cary’s accomplishments and the cultural barriers she broke;
3. Write a persuasive speech, Reproduce 19th c. domestic technology in art project OR Propose a solution to a local history challenge.


Time Period: Middle to late 19th century, Antebellum Era, Reconstruction Era.
Topics/Themes: This lesson can be used in history and social studies curricula to learn about African American and women’s experiences in the United States.


Before the 13th Amendment, laws like the Fugitive Slave Act and court rulings like the Dred Scott Decision affected all people of color in the United States. Many moved North, some as far as Canada, to escape racist laws.

Publisher, activist, teacher, and lawyer Mary Ann Shadd Cary was born free in a slave state. She was exceptional, but her migrations between the U.S. and Canada were typical. They are evidence of where African Americans moved in North America during the 19th Century and her surviving D.C. home is evidence of where and how a woman of her status lived.

Lesson Hook/Preview

Were free African Americans, living in the United States before the Civil War, truly “free”? What historic place might you study to answer this question?


  1. Getting Started Prompt
  2. Map: Orients the students and encourages them to think about how place affects culture and society
  3. Readings: Primary and secondary source readings provide content and spark critical analysis.
  4. Visual Evidence: Students critique and analyze visual evidence to tackle questions and support their own theories about the subject.
  5. Optional post-lesson activities: If time allows, these will deepen your students' engagement with the topics and themes introduced in the lesson, and to help them develop essential skills.


Dredd Scott Decision
Fugitive Slave Act
Underground Railroad

Related Lessons or Education Materials

Find out more about this resource and download all of the lesson's materials, standards, and resources at the Teaching with Historic Places website: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/teachingwithhistoricplaces/lightning-lesson-001_shadd-cary-house.htm

Contact Information

Email us about this lesson plan

Last updated: September 19, 2018