A Woman to Know: Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Self-reliance is the fine road to independence. — Mary Ann Shadd Cary

(image via National Women's History Museum)


Mary Ann was born free. But when the Fugitive Slave Act threatened that freedom in 1850, her family moved to Canada. There, she began editing and publishing The Provincial Freeman, a newspaper for black refugees living in Canada. She was committed to black women's suffrage, advocating in the Freeman's pages for black women's enfranchisement.

After the Civil War, Mary Ann moved back to America, becoming the first woman law student to enroll at Howard University in DC. But even though she excelled in her classes, she had to wait 10 years before women were allowed to take the bar exam. She didn't waste the time; she founded the Colored Women's Progressive Franchise Alliance, continued publishing the Freeman and taught public school in Washington.

And in 1883, she finally took the bar exam. At age 60.

She aced it.

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