MARY ANN SHADD CARY’S HERSTORY IN THE COLORED CONVENTIONS
SHADD CARY’S ACHIEVEMENTS IN WOMEN’S RIGHTS
At the conclusion of Mary Ann Shadd Cary’s role as a recruiter for the Union army in the Civil War, she returned to live in the U.S. and turned her life toward the project of Reconstruction. In many ways the needs of emancipated African Americans were very similar to those resettled communities she worked with in Canada. She worked as a teacher and labor organizer in Detroit until 1869, when she relocated to the new center for Black political organizing: Washington, DC. By moving she placed herself right back in the middle of the US-based Colored Convention movement and its social networks. However, much had changed in the convention movement and in Shadd Cary’s individual goals. Both embraced professionalization as an important frame for restructuring and redefining Black political organizing.
Postbellum conventions saw a boom of industry-specific meetings centered around organizing labor developing unions, addressing the need for training Black workers, and fighting for fair wages and workers’ rights. Shadd Cary engaged this shift, but with a focus on women’s needs and disenfranchisement. Again we find Shadd Cary coming up against the limits of the convention movement, specifically around its gender politics, and looking to other organizations and approaches to advance her cause. For example, Shadd Cary aimed to become the first Black woman lawyer by dismantling the gender line at Howard University’s Law School and in DC’s bar association. She also embarked on a career as a prominent lecturer and advocate for women’s suffrage. In addition to those efforts, she also tried to charter one of the first organizations in DC. to organize around local Black women’s needs for professional training, business investors, and advocacy for their labor and economic rights- years before the emergence of the Black Club Women’s Movement. Mary Ann Shadd Cary’s work in Reconstruction Era DC. illuminate the ways that Colored Conventions and delegates remained central to racial uplift and advancing Black civil rights, but the marginalization of women proved to be hugely limiting and ultimately pushed people like Shadd Cary to seek other movements and organizations.
Rhodes, Jane. Mary Ann Shadd Cary: the Black Press and Protest in the Nineteenth Century. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998.