Mary Elizabeth Harper (c1828-1890)
Mary (Harper) Kail.jpg
Sex: Female
Birth: circa 1828
Washington, DC
Death: January 28, 1890
Garfield Memorial Hospital
(now Cardiozo High School)
Washington, DC
Father: Andrew Harper (c1795-aft1832)
Mother: Mary McDermott-Roe (c1805-aft1832)
Siblings: Virginia Harper (c1831-aft1850)
Spouse/Partner: Gabriel Sells Kail (1814-1888)
Marriage: May 18, 1843 in Carroll County, Ohio
Children: Maria Bell Kail (1844-1917)
Virginia Elizabeth Kail (1847-1917)
Albert Kail (1856-?)
Emma Kail (c1857-?)
Jay Wirt Kail (1861-?)

Mary Elizabeth (Harper) Kail was an accomplished poet, an editor of the Connotton Valley Times, a clerk for the United States Department of Treasury, and a mother of five children including actor Jay Wirt Kail.

Early Life[]

Mary was born in Washington, DC. She was likely the daughter of Andrew and Mary (McDermott-Roe) Harper. Mary's father died, possibly of malaria, while Mary and her sister Virginia Harper were children. It is unclear what became of their mother. Mary and Virginia travelled with family members to Perry Township, Carroll County, Ohio. There, Mary married a farmer, Gabriel Kail, while her sister Virginia married Benjamin Busby.

Children by Gabriel Kail[]

While residing in Perry Township, Mary and Gabriel had five children:

Mary's daughter Virginia married Rezin Millings Price, grandson of the founder of the nearby town of Leesville, Ohio. Her son Jay Wirt ultimately moved back to the District of Columbia where he pursued acting and later worked in the printing industry. Jay eventually relocated to Burlington, North Carolina.

Move to Leesville[]

In the mid to late 1860s, Mary and Gabriel moved to nearby Leesville, Ohio, possibly after their daughter Virginia married Rezin Price. There, the couple are found in the 1870 and 1880 censuses.

Connotton Valley Times[]

By 1878, Mary was editor of the Connotton Valley Times.

Return to Washington[]

By 1884, Mary returned to Washington, DC, possibly following her son, actor Jay Wirt Kail.

In the 1884 and 1890 District of Columbia city directories, Mary is listed in the as a clerk for the United States Department of Treasury. Her address was first listed as 1804 14th Street, NW, and later 1527 1/2 14th Street (currently the address of the Great Wall Szechuan House), after she was widowed. Gabriel and Mary both appear in the 1885 and 1886 city directories as well.


While residing in Ohio, Mary authored numerous poems and songs, and continued to do so upon her return to Washington. A compilation of her work entitled "Crown Our Heroes and Other Poems," was published by Leland Stanford. Popular compositions from this work include "Crown Our Heroes" and "Ohio," the text of which are provided below. See also: Historical Collections of Ohio. The book sold 250,000 copies. On the publication of her book, it is said that "Mrs. Mary E. Kail, of Ohio, who had written many popular campaign songs for the Republicans, was turned out from the Treasury by the reformers, although a good clerk. She wished to publish her poems to pay rent, buy groceries for a large family. Mrs. Stanford hearing of the case, published the first edition free, which cost her about $500, thus placing the poor poetess on her feet at once."

Crown Our Heroes[]

Crown our heroes, the soldiers, whose spirits have fled
To the land of the blest; crown the heroic dead.
Let the fair hand of woman weave garlands of flowers
Kissed by heaven’s pure sunlight in sweet morning hours.
Go tenderly, gently, and scatter them where
Our heroes are sleeping! Go scatter them there.
Crown our heroes, the soldiers, who sleep on the shore
Where the call of the bugle can wake them no more.
Men who fought to defend us—oh, can we forget
The tribute of glory we owe to them yet?
Bring love’s fairest offerings, with tears and with prayer
And gratefully, sacredly scatter them there.
Crown our heroes, the soldiers, whose grandeur and power
Saved our own dear Columbia in war’s troubled hour.
When amid the fierce struggle each soul was a host,
Who was ready to die lest his country be lost.
They are dead! They are dead! What now can we do
As a token of love for the noble and true?
Crown our heroes, the soldiers. Oh! Scatter the flowers
O’er the graves of the dead; they are yours, they are ours.
Men who fought for the flag, and our foes in the fray;
For as brothers they sleep, both the blue and the gray.
And true to our banner, our offerings we bring—
Blushing roses of summer, and violets of spring.
Crown our heroes, God bless them! No true heart must lag;
Crown the dead and the living who stood by the flag.
Through the oncoming ages let each have a name
Carved in letters of gold in the temple of fame;
For the bright stars of freedom—our banner unfurled—
Is the joy of Columbia, the pride of the world!


Ohio, I love thee, for deeds thou hast done;
Thy conflicts recorded and victories won;
On the pages of history, beaming and bright;
Ohio shines forth like a star in the night.
Like a star flashing out o'er the mountain's blue crest.
Lighting up with its glory the land of the west.
For thy step onward marching and voice to command
Ohio, I love thee, thou beautiful land.
Commonwealth grandly rising in majesty tall--
In the girdle of beauty the fairest of all,
Tho' thunders of nations around thee may roar--
Their strong tidal waves dash and break on thy shore--
Standing prouder and firmer when danger is nigh,
With a power to endure and an army to defy;
Ohio shall spread her broad wings to the world,
Her bugles resounding and banners unfurled.
A queen in her dignity, proudly she stands,
Reaching out to her sister States wealth-laden hands,
Crown'd with plentiful harvests and fruit from the vine,
And riches increasing in ores from the mine.
While the Liberty's banner unfurled to the sky--
Resolved for the union to do or to die--
Her soldiers and statesmen unflinchingly come,
'Mid booming of cannon and roll of the drum.
To glory still onward, we're marching along.
Ev'ry heart true and noble re-echoes the song,
Ever pledged for each other, through years that have fled.
We have hopes for the living, and tears for the dead.
Bless the heroes who suffered, but died not in vain;
Keep the flag that we love--without tarnish or stain.
Thus uniting with all, shall my song over be
Ohio, my home-land, my heart clings to thee!

Later Life[]

Upon Mary's husband Gabriel's death in 1888, Gabriel was buried in the Leesville Cemetery near the residence of their daughter Virginia (Kail) Price in Carroll County, Ohio. Mary remained in Washington after the parting of her husband, where she spent the remaining two years of her life. Mary resided with son Jay Wirt Kail at 1408 P Street, NW (presently the site of Mac Dee Cleaners). Mary died in 1890 at Garfield Hospital, which once stood on the land presently occupied by Cardiozo High School in Northwest Washington, DC. The funeral was at her son's residence shortly thereafter. It is presumed that Jay buried his mother at a cemetery somewhere in the District of Columbia, possibly alongside her parents, although her grave has not yet been located.