Kate McPhelim Cleary

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Kate McPhelim Cleary (August 22, 1863 – July 16, 1905) was a 19th-century American author.


Kate McPhelim was born in Richibucto, New Brunswick, Canada, the daughter of Irish immigrants James McPhelim and Margaret Kelly. Kate’s father died when she was two years old, leaving her mother Margaret Kelly McPhelim to raise her four children alone. After a brief return to Ireland to live with relatives, financial hardships forced the family to emigrate to Philadelphia. Kate published her first poem at the age of 14, and her first short story by the age of 15. During this time, all four of the McPhelim children turned to writing stories, poems and articles for such publications as The Chicago Tribune and Philadelphia’s Saturday Night as a source of income for the family.

Two years later in 1880, Kate’s family moved to Chicago, where Kate married Chicago businessman Michael Timothy Cleary in 1884. That same year Kate and her mother both relocated to Nebraska, where Michael Cleary had established a lumber business in partnership with his brother-in-law John Templeton. Between the years of 1887 and 1894, Kate gave birth to five children (James, Marguerite, Gerald, Rosemarie and Vera). Kate’s mother died of pneumonia in 1893, and in 1894 Kate’s life was threatened by a fever following the birth of her youngest daughter, Vera. In that same year, Kate’s daughter Marguerite died of typhoid fever at the age of six. In 1895 Michael Cleary left temporarily for Chicago in an attempt to rescue his business, and during the next three years he traveled frequently in search of a better climate to alleviate his failing health. In 1895, Kate’s daughter Rosemarie died at the age of three. Two years later, Kate gave birth to another son (Edward) in 1897. In 1898 her husband sold the lumber business and moved the family to Chicago.

In 1902, Kate voluntarily entered a private sanitarium for an addiction to morphine. The following year she was admitted to the Illinois Northern Hospital for the Insane in Elgin, Illinois in order to recover from her morphine dependency. The hospital pronounced her “sane” in the spring of 1904. In 1905, her husband attempted to commit Kate involuntarily to an insane asylum, but his attempt was thwarted by a court battle in which a jury determined that Kate was sane. She died soon thereafter at the age of 41, succumbing to a heart condition she had endured most of her life.

Professional accomplishments[edit]

In 1898, Kate McPhelim Cleary was named by The Chicago Chronicle as "One of the three leading women humorists in Chicago". Her short stories regularly appeared in such publications as The Chicago Tribune, Puck, Belford's Monthly, The Chicago Daily News, McClure's, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, St. Nicholas, and The Youth's Companion. Her poem "Nebraska" was recited at the Chicago's World Fair of 1893. Her feminist novel Like a Gallant Lady was received favorably by the critical press, which compared her novel to the works of Hamlin Garland.[1]


  • The Lady of Lynhurst (1886)
  • Vella Vernel (1887)
  • Feet of Clay (1893)
  • Nebraska (1893)
  • Told on a Prairie Schooner (1893)
  • The New Man (1895)
  • A Prairie Sketch (1895)
  • Dust Storm (1895)
  • Like a Gallant Lady (1897)
  • Jim Peterson’s Pension (1899)
  • The Rebellion of Mrs. McLelland (1899)
  • An Ornament to Society (1899)
  • The Road That Didn’t Lead Anywhere (1899)
  • His Onliest One (1899)
  • How Jimmy Ran Away (1899)
  • Sent to Syringa (1899)
  • The Stepmother (1901)




  1. ^ "Kate McPhelim Cleary: A Gallant Lady Reclaimed" Lopers.net. Accessed October 6, 2008.