Mary Elizabeth Lease, Gendered Politics and Populist Party Politics in Gilded-Age America
Chapter 2: Mary Elizabeth Clyens Lease: Origins of a Radical, 1853–1888
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Mary Elizabeth Clyens Lease: Origins of a Radical, 1853–1888
Mary Elizabeth Lease was born on September 11, 1853, in Ridgway, Elk County, Pennsylvania to Joseph P. Clyens and Mary Elizabeth Murray Clyens. Mary was the third child born to the Clyenses, and the first born in America. Her father, Joseph Clyens, toiled as a farmer, while her mother, Mary Murray Clyens, was relatively well educated, attaining some knowledge of Greek, Latin, and French, and, according to Mary Lease, was the niece of the Catholic bishop of Dublin. In order to escape British authorities and endemic poverty, the Clyens family emigrated from Ireland in 1853, arriving in America when sectional tensions were intensifying.1
Mary Lease’s later radicalism, in her own estimation, sprung in large part from her parents’ experiences in Ireland, namely her Irish father’s failed attempts to rebel against local British landowners and her family’s risky escape from British authorities, along with the havoc of the potato famine and its devastating poverty. Mary Lease’s father, Joseph Clyens, toiled as a farmer in Monaghan County, Ireland until the potato famine forced tenant farmers like Joseph off of their land and into a precarious debted state. While still in Ireland, Joseph, an ardent Irish Nationalist, attempted to organize a revolt against British rulers and absentee landowners. Learning of the rebellion, British authorities reportedly set out to seize and hang him, forcing the Clyens family to flee to America. Like many...
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