Mary Shaw Leader of Hanover got up early on November 19, 1863, and started off on her walk to work. Hours later, after a cold 15-mile walk, she arrived in Gettysburg to attend the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Since the Battle of Gettysburg in July, the cemetery had been laid out and the remains of the soldiers killed in the battle had been reinterred.
She, along with hundreds of other people, stood through U.S. statesman Edward Everett’s two-hour-long speech and President Abraham Lincoln’s less-than-three-minute speech.
Eyewitness accounts of Lincoln’s speech, which would become known as “The Gettysburg Address”, have said that initial reaction to it was mixed. Historian Shelby Foote has said that applause was “barely polite.” Sarah Cooke Myers, who attended the speech, recalled in 1931, “There was no applause when he stopped speaking.” However, the New York Times article on the speech said Lincoln was interrupted five times by applause.
When Leader returned to Hanover, she prepared her article for the Hanover Spectator, a newspaper owned by her family. Her father, Senary Leader, had started the newspaper in 1844, publishing it until he died in1858. Senary’s wife, Maria, had then taken over as editor while Leader served as a reporter. She was one of Pennsylvania’s first female reporters.
Leader began her article, “On Thursday last, the 19th of November, 1863, was a great day in the history of Pennsylvania and the entire Union. The battlefield of Gettysburg was dedicated with imposing ceremonies in honor of the great victory which decided of the fate of the Nation.”
She included the full text of Lincoln’s speech and called it a “remarkable speech.” Although the country was still engaged in war and would be for two more year, her view of the Battle of Gettysburg turned out to be prophetic as the battle is seen by many as the turning point of the Civil War.
Leader “was the only contemporary newswriter to praise what many consider was the greatest speech ever delivered in the English language,” the Gettysburg Times reported.
Leader passed away in Hanover in 1913 while 15 miles away Gettysburg was celebrating the largest gathering of Civil War veterans ever during the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
She was buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery with a small marker.
William Anthony, a job printer in Hanover, had learned his trade from the Leader family. After Leader’s death, he learned about his small place in history and felt that it should be recognized with more than a small stone. He began a campaign to raise money for a larger memorial that cost $402 (about $9,500 today).
Anthony also arranged a memorial dedication service patterned after the cemetery dedication services in 1863. Around 600 people attended the service on November 10, 1941. Gettysburg College history professor, Dr. Robert Fortenbaugh, delivered the dedication address. Rev. Dr. Harry Hursh Beidleman, pastor at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Hanover, read the Gettysburg Address. The Reformed Emmanuel Church a cappella choir sung a Civil War song and 15-year-old Wirt Crapster, Leader’s grand-nephew unveiled the monument.