Mary Shadd Cary was the first black woman law student, enrolling at Howard University in September 1869. She graduated from Howard in 1870 with her LL.B, the first African American woman to get a law degree in the United States. She joined the growing women’s voting movement just as fellow activists Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony testified before Congress and attempted to vote.
In January 1874, Mary 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 1880s, 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.
Mary Shadd Cary was an iconoclast; she annoyed people by refusing to be deterred or to tone down her message, and that may be the reason she is not as well-known as some of her contemporaries. Her accomplishments in law, education, and civil rights, in spite of these obstacles, are impressive.