Women and the Early Press

What African-American woman became an early black newspaper editor?

Mary Ann Shadd (Cary) (1823–1893) became the first black woman editor of a newspaper in North America, in 1853. She was editor and financier of the Provincial Freeman, published in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, one of several black anti-slavery newspapers. The paper condemned slavery, attacked the all-black settlements in Canada, and solicited funds to help fugitive slaves. Shadd was a dedicated abolitionist who used her many talents in journalism as a teacher and lawyer to fight vigorously for the cause. She grew up free and well-to-do in her parents’ Delaware home, which often served as a shelter for runaway slaves. She attended a Quaker school in Pennsylvania for six years, after which she founded a Wilmington, Delaware, private school for black children where she taught from 1839 to 1850. Largely as a consequence of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Shadd and one of her brothers moved to Windsor in 1851, and she became an advocate for black emigration to Canada. Shadd and her brother both began to teach in a segregated school, and in 1853 she published the first copy of the Provincial Freeman. The paper competed with Henry Bibb’s publication, Voice of the Fugitive, which former slave Bibb also targeted toward blacks. Bibb and Shadd differed greatly in philosophy. Bibb saw Canada as a temporary home for American blacks and supported segregation; Shadd’s views were just the opposite. She lectured frequently on racial themes and is recognized by both Canadian and American historians as the first educated black woman lecturer. After the Civil War, Shadd, who had married Canadian Thomas Cary in 1856, moved to Washington, D.C., where she was principal of three large school districts for seventeen years. She became the first woman to enroll in fledging Howard University’s law department. In 1883 she received her law degree. Shadd later turned her attention to women’s suffrage and became a staunch advocate, arguing the case before the House of Representatives Judicial Committee. Shadd’s paper had a limited audience, and her writings often offended some, but she is recognized as one of the best editors in Canada at the time.


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