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Mary Elizabeth Lease

Mary Elizabeth Lease

Populist orator. Born: September 11, 1850, Ridgway, Pennsylvania. Died: October 29, 1933, Callicoon, New York.

Populist orator Mary Elizabeth Lease probably didn't advise Kansas farmers to "raise less corn and more hell." She did admit that it characterized her fight. She was born Mary Clyens to Irish immigrant parents in Pennsylvania in 1850. In later years she claimed she had been born in 1853.

At the age of 20 she came to Kansas to teach school in Osage Mission. Three years later she married Charles L. Lease, a local pharmacist. After unsuccessful farming ventures in Kingman County and in Texas the Leases and their four children moved to Wichita where Mary Elizabeth took on a leading role in civic and social activities.

By 1890 her involvement in the growing revolt of Kansas farmers against high mortgage interest and railroad rates had placed her in the forefront of the People's (Populist) Party. She traveled throughout Kansas, as well as the West and the South, for the cause. She was a powerful and emotional speaker; Emporia editor William Allen White, who did not share her political views, wrote on one occasion that "she could recite the multiplication table and set a crowd hooting and harrahing at her will."

More an agitator than a practical politician, Lease separated from the suffrage movement and by 1896 had become alienated from the Populist Party. She became less involved in politics. She divorced her husband in 1902 and spent the rest of her life with one or another of her children in the East. She died in 1933.

Entry: Lease, Mary Elizabeth

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2003

Date Modified: February 2020

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.