Who Is Mary Ann Shadd Cary? Google Doodle Celebrates North America's First Black Female Newspaper Editor

Today's Google Doodle honors the 197th birthday of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, an American-Canadian journalist, teacher, lawyer, abolitionist and suffragist. She was the first Black female newspaper editor and publisher in North America and the second Black woman to earn a law degree in the U.S.

Shadd Cary was born on October 9, 1823 in Wilmington, Delaware. Her abolitionist parents provided their home as a safe house on the Underground Railroad, a network of secret passageways for slaves escaping the country.

She became a teacher after graduating from a boarding school in Pennsylvania and taught in different parts of the northeast region of the country, including New York City.

She later settled in Canada where she pursued community activism and founded The Provincial Freeman newspaper in Toronto in 1853. The anti-slavery newspaper was launched in the wake of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required citizens by law to assist in capturing runaway slaves. Those interfering with their capture faced a penalty of up to $1,000 and six months in prison. The act also denied slaves the right to a jury trial.

The act passed in 1850 was the second of two Fugitive Slave Acts, which allowed slave owners to recapture slaves who had escaped to states where slavery had been abolished.

In 1860, the paper folded due to financial difficulties and she worked as a teacher in Chatham in Canada's southwestern Ontario region for the first few years of the American Civil War before returning to the U.S. In 1883, she earned her law degree at Howard University in Washington, D.C., after working in the capital as a teacher.

In 1948, Frederick Douglass, a renowned abolitionist leader, published Shadd Cary's first work in his newspaper, which made a bold call to action for the abolitionist movement.

Shadd Cary was designated a Person of National Historic Significance in Canada in 1994.

Today's Google Doodle illustration is the work of Michelle Theodore, an artist based in Alberta, Canada.

Theodore researched how newspapers were made, distributed and the printmaking process in the late 1800s to draw inspiration for her illustration.

"Through my research, I stumbled upon the recurring visual of stacked newspapers and decided that was something I really wanted to include in the Doodle," she noted in a Q&A with Google.

"This opportunity educated me on such a prolific individual that I wasn't aware of in Canadian history. Being able to illustrate a Black woman as driven as Mary Ann was incredibly inspiring.

"I hope people will look at this illustration of a remarkable Black woman from the 1800s and feel inspired by what she was able to accomplish against all odds as an editor, educator, and activist," she added.

1844 Chicago newspaper ad Underground Railroad
A Chicago newspaper advertisement for the Liberty Line, a reference to the Underground Railroad, from 1844. Mary Ann Shadd Cary was born 197 years ago today to abolitionist parents who provided a safe haven for slaves escaping the country on the Underground Railroad. Chicago History Museum/Getty Images