Lease, Mary Elizabeth

Lease, Mary Elizabeth,

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 (b. Clyens)

(1853–1933) lecturer, political activist; born in Ridgway, Pa. Eventually settling with her family in Wichita, Kans., she passed the bar, lectured on women's suffrage and farmers' welfare, and stumped widely for the People's Party in the 1890s, urging American farmers to "raise less corn and more hell." Her most famous work, The Problem of Civilization Solved (1895), contained elements of both Marxism and racism. A fiery, uncompromising figure, she frequently feuded with other activists, and after the election of 1896, moved to New York City, where she was a political writer for the World and practiced law on the Lower East Side. She allied herself briefly with the Theosophists, and, for a time, with Christian Science, and she was a member of the Socialist Party from 1899.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.