Lee, Eleanor Percy

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Eleanor Percy Lee (1819-1849), daughter of Sarah Percy and Nathaniel Ware, co-authored two books of poetry with her sister Catherine Anne Warfield and is thus the literary ancestor of famed writers William Alexander Percy and Walker Percy.

A member of a prominent Southern family with a noted predisposition to mental illness, her mother Sarah fell victim to post-partum depression upon her second daughter’s birth, and the family moved from Natchez, Mississippi, to Philadelphia where her mother, the highest paying inmate and the only one accompanied by a resident slave, received treatment at the Pennsylvania Hospital, then one of the few institutions treating mental illness.

Sarah Percy was taken back to Natchez in 1831, where Eleanor and Catherine Anne would visit her every summer. Having early on showed literary talent — Eleanor wrote her first poem at age eleven — they came under the influence of Eliza DuPuy, a contributor to various women’s magazines and one of the earliest professional Southern female writers. Under her tutelage Eleanor wrote the novella Agatha, which was, however, never published.

In 1843 the sisters published their first volume of poetry, The Wife of Leon, the title page proclaiming them “The Two Sisters of the West”. Displaying a heavy reliance on contrived artistic formulations of the time, it was well received enough to have a second edition in 1845. In 1846 they published their second volume The Indian Chamber.

She married the Virginia planter William Henry Lee, cousin of Robert E. Lee, and according to her sister, never wrote another poem afterwards. She died in 1849 in a yellow fever epidemic.

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