moved to Washington, D. C., where from 1872 to 1884 she served as principal of a black school.
Cary continued to express her views in the press and on the lecture circuit. While she no longer advocated emigration, she held to her views about black advancement, black equality, and woman's suffrage while also addressing the need for black women to become more involved in the public life of their communities. She continued to maintain a full lecture schedule until her health prevented such activity, but while doing so, Cary remembered the youthful criticism she had leveled at black conventioneers in 1849 to "do more, and talk less." She testified before the House Judiciary Committee in favor of expanding the scope of the Reconstruction amendments to include women. In March 1874 she joined a group of women that unsuccessfully attempted to register to vote. In 1880 she founded the Colored Women's Progressive Franchise Program, an organization that was true to the black abolitionist legacy; while the organization diverged from her earlier integrationist views (as did her position at a black school, which perhaps suggests her recognition of the unhappy facts of American life and the need for black organizations to make headway in a racist society), it did present a multi-faceted program for black advancement. And in 1883 she received a law degree from Howard University. Rheumatism and cancer finally stopped Mary Ann Shadd Cary from "doing." She died in Washington, D. C., on 5 June 1893, having lived long enough to see the hopes and expectations of black abolitionism stymied for the time being by white America's abandonment of its black citizens. After a lifetime of activism, there was still much left to do.
Mary Ann Shadd Cary placed great demands on black Americans. Her expectations were high and her criticism of those who failed to accept her challenge was unforgiving. While recognizing the inequities of the society in which they lived, she prodded blacks on to take control of their destiny and to claim what was rightfully theirs. She had, however, never asked anyone to do what she was not willing to do herself.