Hanover woman covered the Gettysburg Address for her mom’s newspaper
Crowds began to gather along the Baltimore Pike just south of Gettysburg, Pa., on November 19, 1863, in anticipation of the parade of celebrities, dignitaries, and military units and bands that would march to the dedication ceremonies for the new Soldiers National Cemetery.
Among the crowd reportedly is Mary Shaw Leader, a newspaper correspondent for the pro-Republican Hanover Spectator. Founded by her late father, Senary, in 1844 well before the Civil War, her mother Maria kept it going through the war years and beyond until her death in 1875. Mary and other family members helped with the reporting, editing, typesetting, printing, and distribution of the paper.
Some accounts suggest that young Mary walked to Gettysburg for the ceremony, although many historians discount this. She was among the minority being a female reporter covering the lengthy proceedings, which included a long-winded, but eloquent keynote speech by famed orator Edward Everett. The President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, arose to give a few brief remarks.
The rest is history.
The Leader home and adjoining newspaper office at 54 Frederick Street in Hanover, Pa.
The crowd assembled on Cemetery Hill surrounding a platform constructed on the civilian side (Gettysburg’s Evergreen Cemetery) of the twin graveyards. Mary Leader Shaw reportedly took her place somewhere in the throng. She had left her family home in Hanover and made her way to Gettysburg, perhaps on foot as the tale goes, but then again, there were plenty of conveyances heading over to the celebration.
Abraham Lincoln delivered a brief speech that brought mixed reaction in the press, often along partisan lines. Many accounts suggest that Mary was among the first to record the president’s actual words, although much of the secondary accounts of her participation are not supported by primary sources. Mary, in the November 27, 1863, edition of the Hanover Spectator called the chief executive’s remarks “a remarkable speech.”
Mary Shaw Leader died in July 1913 and is buried in Section F of Mount Olivet Cemetery in Hanover.
Interestingly, on June 17, 1959, President Harry S. Truman wrote a letter to Anna B. Bennett in response to her inquiry if the President knew about Mary Shaw Leader’s first-hand coverage of the Gettysburg Address.
Truman responded, “In reply to your letter of the 14th, I too, must confess ignorance about Mary Shaw Leader. The best and most accurate report of the Gettysburg Address was made, I have always heard, by Charles Hale of the Boston Daily Advertiser. The day after the speech, Longfellow pronounced it ‘admirable.’ The Springfield Republican called it a gem, and the Providence Journal thought it was touching and inspiring. I would suggest that you get a copy of Robert S. Harper’s Lincoln and the Press, although the book does not mention Mary Shaw Leader. It gives a good sketch of newspaper reaction to all of Lincoln’s utterances & You should also look at the snide remark of the Chicago Tribune. Old Man Medil didn’t like Lincoln. Fact is I don’t think the Tribune liked any President!'”
For much more on Mary Shaw Leader, see this Associated Press article from May 2010.
Photographs from the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and the York County Heritage Trust.