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Mary Elizebeth Clyens Lease

Mary Elizebeth Clyens Lease

Mary Elizabeth Clyens Lease (1853-1933), American lecturer, writer, and politician, gained national fame during the Populist crusade for reform in the 1890s. She was a zealous agitator for equality and opportunity.

Mary Elizabeth Clyens was born in Pennsylvania of Irish parents. She was reared and educated in Allegany County, N.Y. The family moved to Kansas, probably in 1870, at which time Mary Elizabeth was in Osage Mission, Kans., teaching in a parochial school. She married Charles L. Lease, a pharmacist, in 1873. The couple soon moved to Texas, where three of their four children were born. Returning to Kansas in the early 1880s, the family settled in Wichita.

In 1885 Lease was admitted to the bar and entered public life speaking on behalf of the Irish National League with a flaming tirade on the subject of "Ireland and Irishmen." In 1888 she spoke before the state convention of the Union Labor party, a forerunner of the People's party in Kansas, and was the party's candidate for county office long before women were eligible to vote.

Lease was an effective campaigner for the candidates of the Farmers' Alliance—People's party during the 1890 election, making over 160 speeches. During the campaign she was often mistakenly called Mary Ellen, and her enemies dubbed her "Mary Yellin." During one 3-hour speech in Halstead, Kan., she reportedly remarked, "What you farmers need to do is raise less corn and more Hell."

Lease was active in the presidential campaign of 1892, accompanying Populist candidate James Baird Weaver on a disastrous tour of the South. In Minnesota and Nevada she made eight speeches a day. When the Populists gained control of the administration of Kansas, she was named president of the State Board of Charities in 1893. She feuded with the governor and was removed from office but was reinstated by the Kansas Supreme Court.

In 1896 Lease was a leader of the antifusion faction in the Populist party, which fought a merger with the Democrats, who supported the presidential candidacy of William Jennings Bryan. She lost the fight at the national convention but immediately joined the staff of the New York World to campaign against the Democratic candidate. Lease turned to writing articles and poetry for magazines and published a book, The Problem of Civilization Solved. She continued to champion reform—woman's suffrage, prohibition, evolution, and birth control.

A Republican, Lease bolted the party in 1912 to support Theodore Roosevelt's presidential campaign. She retired from public life in 1921. Ten years later she bought a farm in Sullivan County, N.Y., where she died in 1933.

Further Reading

There is no book-length biography of Mary Elizabeth Lease. Sketches of her life and anecdotes and quotations from her political speeches are found throughout the literature on the Populist crusade, beginning with John D. Hicks, The Populist Revolt (1931). A highly colored biography is in Gerald W. Johnson, The Lunatic Fringe (1957). □

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Lease, Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth Lease, 1853–1933, American agrarian reformer and temperance advocate, b. Ridgeway, Pa. The daughter of an Irish political refugee, she first gained recognition for a series of lectures (1885–87) on Ireland and the Irish. She had gone to Kansas as a young woman, was admitted to the bar, and became active in Populist politics in the campaign of 1890. Known during this period as Mary Ellen Lease, she was dubbed Mary Yellin Lease by her opponents because of her flamboyant oratorical style. Urging the popular election of Senators, the setting up of postal savings banks, government control of railroads, federal supervision of corporations, woman suffrage, free silver, prohibition, and other reforms, she gained lasting fame by advising the farmers "to raise less corn and more hell." In 1908 she became a lecturer for the New York department of education and in 1912 supported Theodore Roosevelt in the Bull Moose campaign.

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Lease, Mary Elizabeth

LEASE, MARY ELIZABETH


Mary Elizabeth Clyens Lease (18531933) was an activist, writer, and public speaker for many causes, including farmers' issues and women's suffrage. She was actively involved in the creation of the People's Party in Kansas. She gained national recognition during the Populist crusade for reform in the 1890s.

In 1853 Mary Clyens was born in Ridgeway, Pennsylvania to Irish immigrant parents. After she finished her education, she began teaching in rural schools in New York. In 1870 she moved to Kansas to teach and there she met and married a druggist's clerk, Charles L. Lease.

Lease and her husband tried twice to make a living from farming in Kansas, but were unsuccessful both times, blaming their misfortune on the railroads and loan companies. The couple moved to Texas for several years before returning to Wichita, Kansas in 1883. It was back in Kansas that Lease became involved in public life. On St Patrick's Day, 1885, she delivered her first public speech, "Ireland and Irishmen," on behalf of the Irish National League. In the same year Lease was admitted as a lawyer to the Wichita bar.


Lease later became involved in other political issues, particularly those that involved the farming community. In 1888 she spoke before the state convention of the Union Labor Party, a forerunner of the People's Party in Kansas She was the party's candidate for a county office long before women were even eligible to vote. In 1889 Lease became a Farmers' Alliance lecturer and briefly worked as an associate editor for a reform newspaper, the Wichita Journal.

In 1890 the People's Party in Kansas, commonly known as the Populist Party, was formed to fight for better conditions for farmers. There was much discontent among the agrarian community at that time because of declining farm prices and the accompanying declines in income. Since farmers blamed corrupt politicians for their plight, Lease and many agricultural laborers became disillusioned with traditional party politics and believed change would only come through a third party.

In the same year Lease took an active role in the successful campaign to unseat United States Senator John J. Ingalls (187391), a Kansas Republican. She reportedly made over 160 speeches during the 1890 election. She was often mistakenly called Mary Ellen, and her enemies dubbed her "Mary Yellin'." During a three-hour speech in Halstead, Kansas, Lease encouraged farmers to "raise less corn and more hell."

In 1892 Lease became involved in the creation of the People's Party of America. She campaigned heavily in the south and west for General James B. Weaver (18331912), the party's presidential candidate. In 1893, when the Populists gained control of the administration of Kansas, Lease was appointed president of the State Board of Charities, the highest office held by a woman in Kansas at that time.

By 1896 Lease broke with the Populists because the party was merging with the Democrats to support the presidential candidacy of William Jennings Bryan (18601925). She then joined the staff at Joseph Pulitzer's New York World as a political reporter. Lease moved to New York City and became a public lecturer for several causes, addressing women's suffrage, Prohibition, evolution, and birth control. She died on her farm in New York on October 29, 1933.

See also: William Jennings Bryan, Farmers' Alliance, Labor Movement, Labor Unionism, Populist Movement, Prohibition, Joseph Pulitzer, Women's Movement


FURTHER READING

Campbell, Karlyn Kohrs, ed. Women Public Speakers in the United States, 18001925. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993.

Hardy, Gayle J. American Women Civil Rights Activists: Biobibliographies of 68 Leaders, 18251992. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., 1993.

Johnson, Gerald W. The Lunatic Fringe. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott, 1957.

La Forte, Robert S. Leaders of Reform: Progressive Republicans in Kansas, 19001916. Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1974.

Mayfield, Lydia. "Mary Ellen Lease or 'Yellin' Ellen, the Kansas Tornado." Texas Quarterly, Summer, 1975.

raise less corn and more hell.

mary lease, halstead, kansas, 1890

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"Lease, Mary Elizabeth." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lease-mary-elizabeth