As an enthusiastic student in Charleston, South Carolina, Mary Lee showed precocious talent in languages and literature, and her first published work appeared in Caroline Gilman's publication The Southern Rose. Within a few years her work frequently appeared in literary periodicals across the country, from Godey's Lady's Book in Philadelphia to the Southern Literary Messenger. "The Blind Negro Communicant" became her most widely read poem.
Mary Lee's other published work included her Historical Tales for Youth for the Massachusetts School Library as well as several translations. Though she wrote anonymously at the beginning of her career, she soon began to initial her work, and she eventually published under her full name. Reverend Samuel Gilman collected her poetry for a posthumously published volume in 1851, in which friend and fellow-author Miss Eliza Leslie wrote an admiring introduction.
Another portrait appears in: