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28 AMERICAN BIOGRAPHIES Copyright © by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. When the guns blazed at Fort Sumter in 1861, President Lincoln made it clear that the North was fighting to restore the Union, not to free the enslaved people in the South. But some members of the President’s political party, called Radical Republicans, saw the war as a chance to abolish slavery and achieve some degree of racial equality. The leader of these Radical Republicans in the House of Representatives was Thaddeus Stevens.
Mary Elizabeth Lease was a dynamic speaker who gained fame championing equality for farmers and women, and her life was surrounded by controversy and misunderstanding. Some of her critics gave her the nickname “Yellin’ Mary Ellen,” deliberately changing her middle name. She was criticized by many men and women for what they felt was unsuitably aggressive behavior for a woman. But Mary Lease was not one to be easily discouraged, no matter what her critics said about her. Born in Pennsylvania, Mary Elizabeth Clyens grew up in New York and attended Catholic schools.
Her mother died when Helen was 14, and her father died three years later. In 1852 she married Edward Hunt, an officer in the United States army. She had two sons, but her husband and both sons died within the next ten years. Helen Hunt began writing to escape her despair and grief over her family’s deaths. Her first published works were poems that appeared under a pen name, then magazine articles under her own name. By the 1870s, her work had appeared in nearly every leading publication of the era, and she was recognized as a leading literary figure.