African American Suffragists (Week I)

February 10, 2022

In 1925, Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History conceived and announced Negro History Week to be celebrated during a week in February; the celebration was expanded to a month in 1976. In a speech on the Observance of Black History Month on February 10, 1976, President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” (1) That year, 50 years after the first celebration, the first African American History Month was held.

As we “seize this opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans,” we will focus on an African American suffrage activist who worked tirelessly to educate the public about the validity of woman suffrage: Mary Ann Shadd Cary.


Mary Ann Shadd Cary was born Mary Ann Shadd in Wilmington, DE, on October 9, 1823, to free black parents. Although the population of free blacks was high in Delaware then, education opportunities for free black children were almost nil. Her parents left Delaware in 1833 to move to West Chester, PA where Mary Ann Shadd attended a Quaker boarding school until she was 16. She then began teaching school, first in New Jersey and later in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York City. After the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850, she moved to Windsor, Canada where a community of expatriate African Americans was forming.

In January 1874, Mary Ann Shadd Cary was one of 600 citizens who signed a petition that suffragists presented to the House Judiciary Committee, claiming a woman’s legal right to vote. She was a member of the National Woman Suffrage Association. Later in the 1800, she founded the Colored Women’s Progressive Franchise Association which did not last long, but was another first. Cary used her law degree to help family, friends, and neighbors with legal issues, and worked for equal rights for black women and men, and women in general, until she died in Washington, DC in June 1893. Frederick Douglass once wrote of her, “We do not know of her equal among the colored ladies of the United States.” Shadd’s accomplishments in law, education, and civil rights, were impressive. (2)


1 Ford Library & Museum, President Gerald R. Ford’s Message on the Observance of Black History Month

2 Jennifer Davis, Library of Congress, (2019) Mary Ann Shadd Cary: Lawyer, Educator, Suffragist. Read the full blog at:

Next Week: Continuation

General Disclaimer: The writer has used her best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered. Neither the publisher nor the writer shall be liable in any way for readers’ efforts to apply, rely or utilize the information or recommendations presented herein as they may not be suitable for you or necessarily appropriate for every situation to which they may refer. This information is for educational purposes. In some instances, this article contains the opinions, conclusions and/or recommendations of the writer. If you would like to contact Rev. Lester, write to her c/o P.O. Box 121, Brookfield, WI. 53008.