Information

Mary Lincoln


Mary Todd, the daughter of Eliza Parker and Robert Smith Todd, was born in Lexington, Kentucky on 13th December, 1818. Her father was a wealthy banker and lawyer who was an active member of the Whig Party. Her mother died when Mary was six and she did not get on with her stepmother.

In 1839 Mary went to live with her sister in Springfield, Illinois. While there she met Abraham Lincoln. Despite objections from her family, the couple were married in November, 1842. The couple had four sons: Robert Lincoln (1843-1926), Edward Lincoln (1846-50), William Lincoln (1850-62) and Thomas Lincoln (1853-1871). Three of the boys died young and only Robert lived long enough to marry and have children.

When Abraham Lincoln went to Washington to take his seat in the House of Representatives in 1847, Mary and the children went along. Lincoln felt that Mary "hindered me some in attending to business" and the following year the rest of the family returned to Springfield.

The death of Edward Lincoln on 1st February, 1850, caused Mary to have a spiritual crisis. She ceased attending Episcopal services and became a member of the Presbyterian Church.

Mary did not share her husbands progressive political views but supported him in his campaign to become president. After his victory in 1860 Mary joined him in Washington. Uncomfortable in her new surroundings, she tended to over-compensate by spending large sums of money on clothes. This resulted in her building up enormous debts.

William Lincoln died in 1862. Devastated by the loss of her second son, Mary became interested in spiritualism. Friends became concerned about her mental health when she began to claim that William's spirit came to visit her at night.

During the American Civil War Mary came under the influence of Charles Sumner. She now became an ardent abolitionist and became more radical on this issue than her husband. Her seamstress and former slave, Elizabeth Keckley, also helped to change her views on slavery.

Mary was with her husband at the Ford Theatre when he was murdered by John Wilkes Booth on 14th April, 1865. This event had a detrimental impact on her mental state and she suffered frequent bouts of deep depression.

The situation became worse in 1867 when William Herndon wrote a book claiming that Lincoln had told him that Ann Rutledge, and not Mary, had been the love of his life. She responded by commenting: "This is the return for all my husband's kindness to this miserable man! Out of pity he took him into his office, when he was almost a hopeless inebriate and he was only a drudge, in the place."

Deeply upset by Herndon's revelation, Mary and her young son, Thomas Lincoln, moved to Germany. However, the poor health of her son forced her to return to the United States. Soon afterwards, Thomas died of tuberculosis.

Mary continue to worry unnecessarily about money. Charles Sumner had persuaded Congress to grant her a $3000 a year pension. She also had received a large percentage of her husband's estate. However, her conviction that she was poor, resulting in strange and irrational behaviour. This included selling her clothes and writing letters begging money from prominent politicians. In 1875 her only surviving son, Robert Lincoln, arranged for a sanity hearing. The court judged her insane and she was committed to a sanatorium in Batavia, Illinois.

On 15th June, 1876, a second trial judged Mary sane and she went to live with her sister in Springfield. Her health continued to deteriorate and she refused to leave her bedroom. Mary Todd Lincoln died on 16th July, 1882.

At 11 o'clock at night I was awakened by an old friend and neighbor, Miss M. Brown, with the startling intelligence that the entire Cabinet had been assassinated, and Mr. Lincoln shot, but not mortally wounded. When I heard the words I felt as if the blood had been frozen in my veins, and that my lungs must collapse for the want of air. Mr. Lincoln shot! the Cabinet assassinated!

I waked Mr. and Mrs. Lewis, and told them that the President was shot, and that I must go to the White House. We walked rapidly towards the White House, and on our way passed the residence of Secretary Seward, which was surrounded by armed soldiers, keeping back all intruders with the point of the bayonet.

We learned that the President was mortally wounded--that he had been shot down in his box at the theatre, and that he was not expected to live till morning; when we returned home with heavy hearts. I could not sleep. I wanted to go to Mrs. Lincoln, as I pictured her wild with grief; but then I did not know where to find her, and I must wait till morning. Never did the hours drag so slowly. Every moment seemed an age, and I could do nothing but walk about and hold my arms in mental agony.

Morning came at last, and a sad morning was it. The flags that floated so gaily yesterday now were draped in black, and hung in silent folds at half-mast. The President was dead, and a nation was mourning for him. Every house was draped in black, and every face wore a solemn look. People spoke in subdued tones, and glided whisperingly, wonderingly, silently about the streets.

The last time I saw him he spoke kindly to me, but alas! the lips would never move again. The light had faded from his eyes, and when the light went out the soul went with it. What a noble soul was his--noble in all the noble attributes of God! Never did I enter the solemn chamber of death with such palpitating heart and trembling footsteps as I entered it that day. No common mortal had died. The Moses of my people had fallen in the hour of his triumph. Fame had woven her choicest chaplet for his brow. Though the brow was cold and pale in death, the chaplet should not fade, for God had studded it with the glory of the eternal stars.

When I entered the room, the members of the Cabinet and many distinguished officers of the army were grouped around the body of their fallen chief. They made room for me, and, approaching the body, I lifted the white cloth from the white face of the man that I had worshipped as an idol--looked upon as a demi-god. Not-withstanding the violence of the death of the President, there was something beautiful as well as grandly solemn in the expression of the placid face. There lurked the sweetness and gentleness of childhood, and the stately grandeur of godlike intellect. I gazed long at the face, and turned away with tears in my eyes and a choking sensation in my throat. Ah! never was man so widely mourned before. The whole world bowed their heads in grief when Abraham Lincoln died.

That, that miserable inebriate Johnson, had cognizance of my husband's death. Why, was that card of Booth's, found in his box, some acquaintance certainly existed. I have been deeply impressed, with the harrowing thought, that he, had an understanding with the conspirators & they knew their man. As sure, as you & I live, Johnson, had some hand, in all this.

There were many surmises as to who was implicated with J. Wilkes Booth in the assassination of the President. A new messenger had accompanied Mr. Lincoln to the theatre on that terrible Friday night. It was the duty of this messenger to stand at the door of the box during the performance, and thus guard the inmates from all intrusion. It appears that the messenger was carried away by the play, and so neglected his duty that Booth gained easy admission to the box. Mrs. Lincoln firmly believed that this messenger was implicated in the assassination plot.

Soon after the assassination Mrs. Lincoln said to him fiercely: "So you are on guard tonight - on guard in the White House after helping to murder the President!"

"Pardon me, but I did not help to murder the President. I could never stoop to murder--much less to the murder of so good and great a man as the President."

"But it appears that you did stoop to murder."

"No, no! don't say that," he broke in. "God knows that I am innocent."

"I don't believe you. Why were you not at the door to keep the assassin out when be rushed into the box?"

"I did wrong, I admit, and I have bitterly repented it, but I did not help to kill the President. I did not believe that any one would try to kill so good a man in such a public place, and the belief made me careless. I was attracted by the play, and did not see the assassin enter the box."

"But you should have seen him. You had no business to be careless. I shall always believe that you are guilty. Hush! I shan't hear another word," she exclaimed, as the messenger essayed to reply. "Go now and keep your watch," she added, with an imperious wave of her hand. With mechanical step and white face the messenger left the room, and Mrs. Lincoln fell back on her pillow, covered her face with her hands, and commenced sobbing.


Biography of Mary Todd Lincoln, Troubled First Lady

Mary Todd Lincoln (December 13, 1818–July 16, 1882) was the wife of President Abraham Lincoln. She became a figure of controversy and criticism during her time in the White House. After his death and the deaths of three of her children, she suffered great grief and was emotionally erratic.

Fast Facts: Mary Todd Lincoln

  • Known For: Wife of Abraham Lincoln, she was a controversial first lady
  • Also Known As: Mary Ann Todd Lincoln
  • Born: December 13, 1818 in Lexington, Kentucky
  • Parents: Robert Smith Todd and Eliza (Parker) Todd
  • Died: July 16, 1882 in Springfield, Illinois
  • Education: Shelby Female Academy, Madame Mantelle's boarding school
  • Spouse: Abraham Lincoln
  • Children: Robert Todd Lincoln, Edward Baker Lincoln, William "Willie" Wallace Lincoln, Thomas "Tad" Lincoln
  • Notable Quote: "I seem to be the scape-goat for both North and South."

30. Mary&rsquos Mother Passed Away When She Was A Little Girl

Even though Mary grew up in comfort, she would go through heartache. As the town banker, Mary&rsquos father, Robert Todd, owned slaves. His wife and Mary&rsquos mother, Elizabeth &ldquoEliza&rdquo Todd remained at home with her children, three of which came into this world before Mary.

Mary lived a carefree life until one day when her mother went into labor with her seventh child. During childbirth, Eliza contacts puerperal fever and never recovered. A few days after giving birth to George, Eliza passed away. For the next two years, Mary&rsquos maternal grandmother and older sister took care of her.


MARYGATE: LINCOLN'S SCANDAL

Over the years, Mary Todd Lincoln has been called a shrew, a hellcat and a nut.

Now, new revelations from a close friend of her husband, President Abraham Lincoln, suggest another title may be in order: thief.

Selections of diaries of U.S. Sen. Owen Hickman Browning of Illinois recount detailed charges by a judge and a mansion servant that the controversial first lady engaged in-among other things-rampant padding of the White House expense account.

The juicy details have been hidden in a state library in Springfield since the 1920s, by order of a Browning descendant who liked Mrs. Lincoln and wanted to protect her. Historians have long read the Browning diaries for information about the Lincoln era, but they were never allowed to see a handful of entries expunged as a condition of sale to the state.

Recently, however, trustees of the Illinois Historical Library-hounded by historians for years-decided that cloistering the diaries violated the library's role as an archive. Though it was mostly unnoted by the world at large, the release of the secret Browning passages a week ago has been met with near ecstacy in the world of Lincoln buffs.

"She simply behaved terribly," said Michael Burlingame, a noted Lincoln author and history professor at Connecticut College who had been after the excerpts for years. "People have tended to whitewash things for Mary Lincoln. This makes it a little harder to do that."

Actually, Mary Lincoln has gotten far more bad press than good in the 102 years since her death. Each new diary, letter and biography has revealed new details about her fiery temper and bouts with insanity. And the charges that she stole from the federal government have cropped up before.

Now Browning's accounts add credible data to back up those charges, historians said.

The diary entries include details of Browning's conversations with Judge David Davis, who called Mrs. Lincoln "a natural born thief." She ran up astronomical bills for a $2,000 dress, furs and 300 pairs of kid gloves, and took things from the White House when she left, according to Davis, who acted as administrator of the Lincoln estate at one point.

"(S)tealing was a sort of insanity with her," Davis told Browning, according to a July 29, 1861, entry, made 14 years before Mrs. Lincoln was admitted for six months to a Batavia insane asylum.

In addition, a mansion employee named "Stackpole" said Mrs. Lincoln and a mansion gardener conspired to make up false bills to get payment of private expenses from the public treasury, a March 3, 1862, entry recounts.

In one case, Stackpole said, Mary Lincoln purchased a silver plate for her personal use but billed it to the government. In another, she hired a ghost-payroll servant at a government salary of $100 a month but kept the money for herself.

Stackpole also said Mrs. Lincoln leaked the president's private papers to his political enemies and met privately with one on a regular basis.

Browning defends Mary Lincoln in the diaries.

True, he wrote, she had an "unhappy and ungovernable temper." But he believed "all the charges against her of having pilfered from the White House were false," he wrote.

Still, the entries were worrisome to Browning's niece Eliza Miller, who sold the diaries to the State of Illinois 80 years ago. She had once visited the Lincolns in the White House and found Mary Lincoln to be warm and friendly, said Tom Schwartz, Lincoln curator at the state's historical library.

She threatened to burn the diaries if the state didn't agree to black out the bad parts, he said. Her family gave its blessings to the release of the diaries last week.

Miller was not Mary Lincoln's only defender. Especially in recent years, she has become something of an icon for feminists, who consider her the posthumous victim of a backlash.

People blame her because-like Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan and Hillary Rodham Clinton-she was influential in her husband's administration, they say.

Plus, her husband was spotted doing "unmasculine" things at her behest, according to one Mary Todd Lincoln defender.

"He used to wheel the babies around Springfield," said Samuel Schreiner, a retired Reader's Digest editor and Connecticut-based author of the book, "The Trials of Mrs. Lincoln."

"Once he was caught doing housework. People thought she pushed him around."

She was called "a female wildcat of the age," by Lincoln's law partner, said John Y. Simon, history professor at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. An assistant to Lincoln echoed the sentiment, once writing that the "hellcat" was growing "more hellcattical" by the day. A senator said she looked like a cow.

"There's definitely an anti-feminist image," said Jean Baker, a Mary Todd Lincoln biographer who tried vigorously in the 1980s to get hold of the expunged portions of the Browning diaries.

"This is a woman with bad traits. But she had good traits, too," said Jean Baker, a Mary Todd Lincoln biographer who tried vigorously in the 1980s to get hold of the expunged portions of the Browning diaries. "She was intelligent, energetic, she helped her husband. There seems to be an inability to see anything good about Mary Lincoln."

Despite her reputation, Mary Lincoln still inspires a certain awe among many.

"She stood by her man," said Jill Ester, who traveled from Nebraska last week just to visit the family's home in Springfield, now a historic landmark. "Most women sat back and let things happen."

"Maybe she was a little ahead of her time," said Barb Gennardo, a 4th-grade teacher on a field trip from St. Charles.


Mary Todd Becomes Mrs. Lincoln

Although today she is frequently referred to as Mary Todd Lincoln, once she married she never included her maiden name in her signature, unlike her half sister Emilie Todd Helm. Mary signed her name Mrs. Abraham Lincoln or Mrs. A. Lincoln.

Mary Lincoln would give birth to four children, all boys. Only the first, Robert Todd, named for Mary’s father, would live to adulthood. Among his many successes, he would become secretary of war, minister to London (the title was changed to ambassador with his successor), a very successful attorney, president of the Pullman Car Company, and a millionaire.

The other children were Edward "Eddie" (or "Eddy") Baker (1846&ndash1850), named for a close family friend this child’s death threw Mary into a debilitating depression for a time and foretold the deep, protracted periods of mourning she would experience later. William "Willie" Wallace (1850&ndash1862), named for Dr. William Wallace, the husband of Mary’s sister Frances he seems to have been the favorite of both his parents, and his death appears to have begun a marked decline in his mother’s emotional stability. Upon his death, Mary’s sister Elizabeth, always something of a surrogate mother to her, was summoned to Washington and remained for two months caring for Mary, who was too prostrated to even take care of the youngest Lincoln child, who was sick at the time. That child was Thomas "Tad" (1853&ndash1871), named for Lincoln’s father who had died two years earlier.

Mary, with her abiding interest in politics, became a helpmate to Lincoln in his political career. Among other things, she improved his wardrobe&mdashsomething he gave little attention to&mdashand summarized newspaper articles for him, and the two discussed political topics. While women could not "stump" for candidates at that time, Mary engaged in letter-writing campaigns and hosted social events, such as a strawberry party that drew 300 guests to the Lincoln home (presumably not all at one time). When her husband learned he had won the presidency in 1860, he reportedly rushed home from the telegraph office shouting, "Mary, we are elected!"

Her personality had always been mercurial a cousin described Mary in childhood as being like an April day, "sunning all over one moment, the next crying as though her heart would break." Many stories have been told about Mary berating Lincoln, chasing him out of the house, and even striking him. Other accounts by close neighbors and by people who were frequent visitors to the Lincoln home in an upper-middle class Springfield neighborhood present a picture of a couple very much in love with each other. In 1869, she wrote, "From my eighteenth year&mdashAlways&mdashlover&mdashhusband&mdashfather & all all to me&mdashtruly my all."

She was intensely loyal to her husband. When he was defeated in his second attempt to win a U.S. Senate seat by a friend, Mary stopped speaking to the man’s wife. Near the end of the Civil War when Mary’s half-sister Emilie Todd Helm, a favorite of the Lincolns, wrote angrily to the president, "Your minnie bullets have made us what we are," Lincoln forgave her Mary never did.

When Lincoln was elected to his single term in the U.S. Congress of 1846&ndash48, Mary and the children went with him to Washington but soon traveled to Kentucky to stay with her stepmother and stepsiblings. The two women, older now and having both experienced motherhood, were on better terms, although Mary wrote to Lincoln, "if she thought, any of us were on her hands again, she would be worse than ever."

After he won election to the presidency, the family moved to Washington, D.C. None of them would ever live in the Springfield home again.


Mary Todd Lincoln

Lady Most nineteenth century First Ladies traditionally served as a behind-the-scenes supporter to her husband in his official duties. Modern Presidential spouses may be the same but also be a committed activist to a worthy cause. Yet no matter their role, it never serves their husband well if they attract adverse publicity in any way. One unfortunate example of this premise was Mary Todd Lincoln. For, while Abraham Lincoln was coping with the intricacies of a nation divided by war, Mary Todd Lincoln was busy shopping and running up large bills, holding seances to reach her dead son, and staging jealous rantings when her husband paid polite attention to another woman. Was Mrs. Lincoln crazy? A jury would later find her so at least temporarily, but nonetheless she was a complex woman at a complex era in complex setting. Yet perhaps all that characterized Mary Lincoln may have been exaggerated simply because she was the wife and then widow of the legendary Great Emancipator.

If Abraham Lincoln was known for being born and raised in frontier poverty then Mary Todd was born in wealth and privilege – on that same frontier. Born in December, 1813 in Lexington, Kentucky, Mary (often called Molly) Todd was the third daughter of a businessman/Kentucky state legislator, and his first wife, and she was born into what one biographer called a “clannish” family. Molly Todd and her four siblings were left motherless in 1825 when her mother died in childbirth along with the newborn. Mr. Todd remarried soon after, a woman from a Virginia family who had elevated ideas about instilling aristocratic ideas into the Todd children. Besides coping with her mother’s death, Mary proved to be an independent child who would present a non-compliant opposition to the plans of the new Mrs. Todd.

Mary attended private schools, and then at age 14, she enrolled into a residential finishing school where the curriculum emphasized manners, dancing and French. After completing her education, Mary traveled to Springfield, Illinois to visit her sister Lizzie who was married to lawyer Ninian Edwards. She moved there permanently in 1839.

A brown haired, rosy cheeked 20 year old, Mary was a candid speaking flirt and as such, she was a fresh addition to what was a rustic frontier state capital. Since sister Lizzie was socially conscious, she naturally hoped her Mary would find a suitor from among the young men in her social circle. Instead, Mary had her eye on a tall, lanky lawyer from a poor background. In 1840, she and Abraham Lincoln became engaged despite Mrs. Edwards’ feeling it was a mismatch because they were too dissimilar. Yet as one biographer put it: “The truth is Molly gravitated to the strong-minded positive person, perhaps she admired so much the mental ruggedness that had been left out of her chemistry. She was a woman all feeling and impulse, incapable of scheming to catch a husband.”(Profiles and Portraits of American Presidents and their Wives, Margaret Bassett, p. 150)

Yet when in January, 1841 Lincoln called off the engagement, possibly because he sensed a lack of a true love match, Mary returned to the social whirl. While Lincoln became ill with concern over the parting, Mary began seeing another Springfield politician named Stephan A. Douglas. Yet while this romance did not evolve, meanwhile a series of unusual events were soon to reunite Mary and Lincoln.

A local newspaper ran a series of fictitiously authored letters mocking a local politician. While Lincoln wrote two humorously toned letters, Mary and a friend contributed a letter that was more direct. The politician began to suspect the identity of the author of this last letter and to prevent any repercussions to Mary, Lincoln claimed to be the offending author. The politician challenged Lincoln to a duel but with the intention of avoiding any inquiry to either of them suggested they settle the issue with broadswords. The politician was a short man so Lincoln had the advantage, but when the duel was about to begin, the politician saw the incongruity, became more reasonable and accepted an apology. However, because of these events, Mary and Lincoln were reunited and they were married in November, 1842 at the Edwards home

At the time of their marriage, Lincoln was a lawyer who followed the circuit courts from one community to another, so Mary was often alone in their first lodgings at a local tavern/inn. In 1844, they purchased a story and a half structure and with the eventual addition of the second floor, the home would become known as the historic Lincoln Homestead in Springfield, Illinois.

Gradually, the Lincolns’ financial situation improved as Mary dedicated herself to their family but her intense efforts often exhausted her and even gave her migraines. This led to occasional emotional outbursts, which Lincoln patiently accepted. “It does her lots of good,” he told friends, “and doesn’t hurt me a bit.”

Their first son – of an eventual four – was Robert Todd born in August, 1843, a child who grew up to follow not only a successful business and public service career but also to be the only Lincoln son to reach adulthood. The second son Edward, born in March, 1846, lived long enough to accompany his family to Washington where Lincoln served a term in Congress, but the boy died in February, 1850. In December of that same year the third son William was born, and the fourth, Thomas (called Tad) was born in April, 1853.

The Lincoln home was probably very typical of other Springfield homes. Lincoln called Mary “Mother” and she called him “Father” or “Mr. Lincoln.” The boys in their homemade clothes played with the neighborhood children, and often visited Lincoln’s office. Mary was an active Presbyterian, and was an impulsively kind neighbor. According to one account, soon after Tad was born when a neighbor woman with a new baby became ill, Mary sent her husband over to get the baby, and then return him after Mary had fed him.

Yet Mary also had problems. She had little concept of frugality, and was always ready to express an opinion about others. One man she found fault with was Billy Herndon, Lincoln’s young law associate, which so offended Herndon that his dislike for her tainted his contribution to a future Lincoln biography.

As Lincoln’s political career reached its culmination in the Presidency, Mary resolved to outfit herself properly. She traveled to New York to choose the best in feminine finery but as it turned out she overspent, and it was the only beginning of the problem.

At first, it was planned that Lincoln would travel to Washington on a special train, accompanied by political aides, stopping for speeches and receptions, while Mary and the two younger boys followed by regular passenger train. However, Mary did not want to miss the excitement of the occasion so the family joined the political aides and friends on the official train. However, though Mrs. Lincoln might smile and wave from the train window she kept a low profile. Willie and Tad, on the other hand, would jump off the train at each stop, dash around among the crowds, and then have to be tracked down and reloaded when it was time to leave.

Then when the train neared Washington, a railroad employee named Allen Pinkerton came aboard to inform the presidential party about a threat to attack the President when they arrived at Baltimore. There had been threats against Lincoln and even Mary, mostly from the South, and since Baltimore was a southern city in sentiment, it was a real danger. Pinkerton’s idea was to allow the train to proceed to Washington without Lincoln who would enter the capital secretly. However, nothing occurred and the family was safely reunited in Washington. Then in spite the gathering war threat, the Inauguration proceeded. At the Inauguration Ball, because the President did not dance Mary led off the festivities with the defeated Democratic candidate and former beau Stephen A. Douglas.

Over the next months, Mary proved to be a successful First Lady. Despite the war, there was a great desire for the normal so Mary kept up a busy schedule of receptions, parties and other social events. Visitors found her a warm hostess and she made many friends even among political opponents. She was assisted by a former slave named Lizzie Keckley who had first come to work in the White House as a seamstress and remained as Mary’s attendant.

Yet Mary soon found herself the center of a controversy because of her family. After all, she was a Todd from Lexington, Kentucky and the Todd’s were Confederates – and in fact, some of her family were fighting against the union. Yet though she tried to set aside any family ties because of the war, at least once it was not so easy.

In the latter part of 1864 Mary’s half-sister Emilie Todd Helm (or “Little Sister” as Lincoln affectionately called her) was restrained when she tried to return to Lexington with her daughter. Lincoln ordered her to be sent to Washington for a brief visit. Yet soon her overspending presented a new challenge.

Congress had appropriated $20,000 to redecorate the White House but when she was finished she overspent by $6,700. Lincoln was irate when he discovered she had spent so much. “It would stink in the nostrils of the American people to have it said the President of the United States had approved a bill overrunning an appropriation of $20,000 for flub dubs, for this damned old house, when the soldiers cannot have blankets,” Lincoln said. If Congress had not covered the overage, it would have come out of Lincoln’s pocket.

Then in early 1862, Tad and Willie became seriously ill. Though Tad survived, 11-year-old Willie did not. Because Mary was so grieved it was several months before she could return to some semblance of a normal routine. From then on, she wore nothing but black, and avoided whatever reminded her of Willie, including his bedroom and the room where he had been prepared for burial. She even consulted mediums and spiritualists, despite Lincoln’s exposing some of them as frauds.

Then in 1863, she realized that her personal debt of $29,000 had become a major problem. Because if Lincoln were not re-elected the next year then her debt would become public knowledge and her creditors could become more pressing.

As the Civil War neared an end in April, 1862, Mary accompanied Lincoln to attend a troop review near Washington. She had made the trip in an army ambulance and because a rough ride had delayed them, she arrived too late to mount a horse and take her place beside her husband. Instead, Mrs. Ord, the wife of the commanding general, had taken that position and Mary was furious enough to rant at both the lady as well as the President. After such a humiliating scene, she could only claim being ill and return to Washington. However, a few days later she was calm enough to make a return trip with an official party to inspect a scene of victory. By April 14, the war was over, and the Lincolns decided to celebrate with a trip to the theater.

Lincoln, Mary and a young couple went to Ford’s Theater to see the popular comedy “Our American Cousin” They were seated in a box, just off the stage, Lincoln in a rocking chair and Mary beside him. When John Wilkes Booth fired the fatal bullet, Mary screamed and fainted. By the time she was revived, the mortally wounded President had been removed across the street to a boarding house to await the end. A sobbing Mary came to his bedside several times, pleading for him respond, and though she was removed several times, she insisted she had to return. When he was finally pronounced dead early the next morning, the overwhelmed new widow was removed to the White House where she would remain for many weeks. The funeral and then the eventual burial in Springfield took place without her. In early June, 1865, the black swathed widow left Washington but not to return to Springfield, Instead she moved to Chicago. Congress had granted her a year’s presidential salary but though she bought a house, it turned out that she could not afford to live there. Since Lincoln had died without a will, his $87,000 estate had to be divided into three parts for his heirs, Mary, Tad and Robert. Finally, to cover her expenses she decided to sell her gowns and other accessories from the White House years. She had left with her extensive wardrobe though unfortunately rumors had arisen that she had attempted to smuggle White House valuables out in her hoop skirts.

Mary arranged for a commission broker to sell her property. Then after she entrusted appeal letters to the broker and the company used them for publicity she felt betrayed and backed out of the deal. Eventually she had to spend $800 to recovery her property.

Eventually Congress arranged for a pension of $3000 a year instead of the $5000 she wanted, but if she wished to retire from public notice, she was soon to be disappointed.

In 1868, Lizzie Keckley published a tell-all book called Behind the Scenes with the belief that she was defending Mary. Yet no matter her reasoning, Mary felt offended and betrayed.

Mary was so anxious to find peaceful obscurity she decided to move to Europe. In 1868 and she and Tad set off, but after nearly three years she had to return because Tad was ill. His death in July, 1871, possibly from tuberculosis, further devastated Mary.

In 1872, there was published a Lincoln autobiography, using some material provided by Billy Herndon, Lincoln’s one time law associate and no friend of Mary’s.

The widow was particularly disturbed over Herndon’s contention that Lincoln had been an agnostic. Her objections to the premise were so strong that Herndon retaliated with implications she was a lying harridan.

In a way, it was true. “She was, in fact, a woeful soul, traveling aimlessly, suffering hallucinations, sometimes spending wildly, sometimes obsessed with the fear of poverty.” (Bassett, p. 158)

At this time, Robert was so concerned about her inability to care for herself he had to bring legal action to declare her incompetent so she could get the care she needed. This meant a jury trial and was a final humiliation for the former First Lady. When she was declared legally insane, she tried to take poison, but when that failed she was removed to a sanitarium where she finally got the psychiatric care she needed. Improvement was so rapid, that she soon left the sanitarium to live with her sister Lizzie in Springfield. After a concerted crusade to reverse the insanity verdict, she succeeded in June 1876. After demanding Robert return her property, she moved to France.


Mary Todd Lincoln

Mary Todd Lincoln supported her husband throughout his presidency, and witnessed his fatal shooting at nearly point blank range at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865. Mary’s life was difficult after her husband was assassinated she suffered from depression and mental anguish, which led to her being hospitalized for a time.

Image: Mary Todd Lincoln in 1846

Mary Todd was born on December 13, 1818, in Lexington, Kentucky, the fourth of seven children born to banker Robert Smith Todd and Elizabeth Parker Todd. Robert Todd provided his children from two marriages with social standing and material advantages. When Mary was seven, her mother died. Mary’s father remarried to Elizabeth Humphreys in 1826. This marriage eventually brought nine more children into the house. Mary had a difficult relationship with her stepmother, who was not sympathetic toward her stepchildren, which may have contributed to Mary’s insecurities later in life.

Unlike most men of his era, Robert Todd believed that women should be well educated. At the age of eight, Mary began her formal education at Shelby Female Academy, where she studied grammar, geography, arithmetic, poetry, and literature. While Mary was trained in the social graces common to her class and time, the level of education she received was unusual.

At age 14, Mary entered Madame Victorie Mentelle’s Select Academy for young ladies, just outside Lexington. There she learned to write and speak French fluently, studied dance, drama, and music. In 1837, she began attending Dr. Ward’s Academy for advanced studies.

In 1839, after completing her education, Mary moved to Springfield, the new state capital of Illinois, to live with her older sister Elizabeth, who was married to Ninian Edwards, the son of a former governor of Illinois. At the age of 20, Mary was 5 feet 2 inches tall, with blue eyes and reddish-brown hair. The Edwardses were socially prominent, and Mary soon became a popular belle.

At a dance in Springfield, Mary met Abraham Lincoln, a junior partner in cousin John Todd Stuart’s law firm, who was ten years her senior. They fell in love and were engaged at the end of the following year.

Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln were a study in contrasts. Nine years older, Lincoln came from a comparatively poor and undistinguished background. He was socially awkward, with less than two years of formal education. Mary’s vivacity and occasional flashes of the “Todd temper” was in marked contrast to his self-deprecating personality. Yet many things brought them together: a love of poetry, literature, and a keen interest in politics and political issues. Mary recognized Lincoln’s intellectual depth and political ambition before others did.

Image: Mary Todd Lincoln House

A fourteen-room Georgian mansion in Lexington, Kentucky, the Mary Todd Lincoln House has the distinction of being the first historic site restored in honor of a First Lady. Mary moved here with her family in 1832 when she was 14 years old. For four years, she attended boarding school during the week but returned home on the weekends. She continued to live there until 1839, when she moved to Springfield, Illinois.

Elizabeth and Ninian Edwards did not approve of the relationship. They believed Lincoln was far beneath Mary. In January 1841, perhaps with his poor background and debt in mind, Abraham asked Mary to release him from the engagement. After much depression, a friend arranged for them to get together again. After another year of clandestine meetings and secret preparations, on November 4, 1842, Mary informed the Edwardses that they were getting married that day. Elizabeth realized it was inevitable.

Mary Todd married Abraham Lincoln in the the front parlor of the Edwards home on the evening of November 4, 1842. Inside the ring Lincoln gave to Mary was the inscription: “Love Is Eternal.” He was 33 years old she was 23. With Abraham earning a modest income, for the first two years of their marriage, they lived in an $8-a-week room at the Globe Tavern in Springfield.

Their four sons were all born in Springfield:
Robert Todd Lincoln (1843–1926), a lawyer, diplomat, and businessman.
Edward Baker Lincoln, known as Eddie (1846–1850)
William Wallace Lincoln, known as Willie (1850–1862), died while Lincoln was President.
Thomas Lincoln, known as Tad (1853–1871), died six years after his father’s assassination.

In 1844, the Lincolns purchased their first and only home at Eighth and Jackson Streets in Springfield. Their home together from 1844 until 1861 still stands in Springfield, and is now the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.

In marrying Lincoln, Mary exchanged her life of relative ease and privilege for that of a working lawyer’s wife. While he was gone for extended periods riding circuit, she was doing much of the household labor and raising four sons. But Mary continued to advance her husband’s political career. He valued her judgment and once observed that he had no reason to read a book after Mary had reviewed it for him.

Still, Lincoln’s career progressed slowly. One term in Congress came amidst several failures to gain his party’s nomination for political office. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1846 and the family moved to Washington, DC, living first at Brown’s Hotel, then in Ann Sprigg’s boarding house (now the site of the Library of Congress). Before his term ended, Mary returned to Kentucky with the boys in 1848.

In 1849 Lincoln’s term ended and he returned to Springfield. Soon, the first of Mary’s tragedies occurred when her father died of cholera in July 1849. Less than a year later, in February 1850, Eddie Lincoln died of diphtheria. He was not yet four years old. Afterwards, Mary could not speak his name without crying.

Image: Abraham Lincoln in 1857
Alexander Hesler, Photographer

Mary took an active role in promoting Lincoln’s political career. When he was offered the governorship of the Oregon territory, she advised against his accepting the post since it would remove him from the national stage in the East. She often wrote to influential friends in Kentucky regarding Lincoln’s views on slavery. As the division between the northern and southern sections of the country widened, Lincoln’s speeches on limiting the spread of slavery, while preserving the Union, were much admired.

Mary’s vigorous defense and support of Lincoln’s presidential candidacy in 1860 her willingness to speak with reporters who came to Springfield to cover his campaign, and during the transition period between election and inauguration, prove her eagerness to assume a prominent public role in her husband’s presidency.

Due to the sectional strife and imminent secession of South Carolina, however, Lincoln’s 1861 inaugural was overshadowed by threats on his life. Many of the wealthy southern families who had dominated the social-political life of the national capital were leaving and those remaining social leaders, including the outgoing First Lady Harriet Lane, had pre-judged the western Mrs. Lincoln as unsuited to assume a social leadership role.

First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Todd Lincoln was thrilled to become First Lady, at the age of 42. She held elegant buffet dinners, invited intellectuals and literary figures to the White House, and welcomed visitors and guests to her Thursday night receptions and spring and winter receptions. She balanced her social role with an interest in public affairs, reading political journals and newspapers, attending congressional debates, and advising her husband on administration appointments. But even as the public began to regard her as First Lady, she referred to herself as Mrs. President.

Media accounts described the new First Lady as plump and plain, and she took such reports as an insult, not just to her but to her husband. Everything she wore was scrutinized and critiqued in the newspapers, convincing her more and more that she needed to wear the very finest fashions. She spent more on clothes than her husband could afford, but her spending only added to the public ridicule. She was the first presidential wife to be called First Lady in the press, as documented in both the London Times and Sacramento Union newspapers.

Mary spoke her mind on political matters – sometimes in French – and in a time when women were supposed to be demure and soft-spoken, she came across too forcefully.

Mary Lincoln viewed her expensive 1861 White House redecoration (over-running a Federal appropriation of $20,000) as a necessary effort to create an image of the stability that would command respect not only for the President, but for the Union. She instead conveyed the image of a selfish and indulgent woman, inconsiderate of the suffering the nation’s families were enduring as a result of the war her husband was managing.

Image: Mary Todd Lincoln during the Civil War

During her tenure at the White House, Mary often visited hospitals around Washington, where she gave flowers and fruit to wounded soldiers. In some cases, she helped with their correspondence. From time to time, she accompanied Lincoln on military visits to the field. Mary offered intelligence she had learned as well as her own advice to the President on military personnel, recommended minor military appointments to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, toured Union Army camps and reviewed troops with her husband.

She was largely successful in her objective of using entertaining as a means of raising Union morale. She was not successful in her efforts to oust Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, Secretary of State William Seward, General George B. McClellan and General Ulysses S. Grant.

Two public causes in which Mary Lincoln became involved attested to her genuine support of the Union Army and the freedom of slaves: the Sanitary Commission fairs, which raised private donations to supplement Federal funds for supplies for the soldiers fighting on the front, and the Contraband Relief Association. The latter raised private donations, for the housing, employment, clothing and medical care of recently freed slaves, an organization in which she became involved as a result of her friendship with her dressmaker, former slave Elizabeth Keckley.

Tragedy and Loss
Mary Todd Lincoln’s life in the White House was marked by controversy and tragedy. As a well-bred woman of Kentucky, she was reviled by Southerners as a turncoat, while Northerners doubted her loyalty. Several of her siblings supported the Confederacy through marriage or military service. Not surprisingly, the divided loyalties within the Todd family fueled much controversy in the nation’s press.

Mary’s brother George R.C. Todd and her half-brothers Alexander Todd, David Todd, and Samuel Todd all fought in the Confederate Army. Two of her stepbrothers were killed in battle: Alexander at Baton Rouge Samuel at the Battle of Shiloh. Of one of her stepbrothers, she said, “He made his choice long ago. He decided against my husband, through him against me. He has been fighting against us and since he chose to be our deadly enemy, I see no special reason why I should bitterly mourn his death.”

Yet when her brother-in-law Brigadier General Benjamin Hardin Helm was killed fighting for the Confederacy in the Battle of Chickamauga, the Lincolns took in his widow, her stepsister Emilie Todd Helm, to live with them in the White House.

Mary Todd Lincoln suffered greatly in the White House. The pressures and anxieties of the war were unrelenting, and she watched her husband age visibly under the strain. In early 1862, when she lost eleven-year-old son Willie to typhoid fever, Mary was prostrate with grief. Mary sought out mediums and spiritualists to contact the dead boy, but they only bilked her out of another small fortune the Lincolns could not afford.

Mary Todd Lincoln suffered from frequent severe headaches throughout her adult life, and difficult bouts of depression, anxiety and paranoia. In a July 1863 accident, she was seriously injured when she was thrown from her carriage, knocked unconscious, and received a deep gash on her forehead. Even as she recovered from the carriage wreck, her other ailments became nearly as well-known as her name.

Mary also made irrational outbursts during Lincoln’s presidency. For example, after an uncomfortable carriage ride to review the troops at City Point, Virginia, during which she was accompanied by Julia Dent Grant (whom Mary did not like), wife of General Ulysses S. Grant, Mary Lincoln unleashed her pent-up fury on her husband when he rode on horseback alongside the lovely wife of a general.

Such scenes were not infrequent in Mary Lincoln’s life, and Abraham Lincoln’s secretaries nicknamed her the Hellcat. Even in childhood, friends had observed that she was either “in the garret or in the cellar,” emotionally. Such patterns indicate that Mary Lincoln may have suffered from bipolar disorder. Her mental illness worsened after her husband’s assassination, when she disintegrated into inconsolable, pathological grief and went on manic shopping sprees, which partially accounts for her unpopularity with many people.

The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, and the war was officially over. Mary Lincoln hoped to renew her happiness as the First Lady of a nation at peace. However, on April 14, 1865, President and Mrs. Lincoln went to watch the comic play Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater. As they sat in theater box, her hand in his, John Wilkes Booth shot the president in the head at near point blank range. Mary accompanied her husband across the street to the Petersen House, where Lincoln’s Cabinet was summoned. Mary was with her husband through the night along with her son Robert. Abraham Lincoln died at 7:22 the following morning.

Image: Lincoln Home in Springfield, Illinois
Bettina Woolbright, Artist

This Greek Revival style house at the corner of Eighth and Jackson Streets in Springfield, Illinois, was home to the Lincoln family from 1844 to 1861. The initial structure was built in 1839 as a five-room cottage. Mary was largely responsible for expanding the house to the size depicted here to better accommodate her growing family. The house, purchased by Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, was the first and only home Lincoln ever owned.

From all over the world, Mary Lincoln received messages of condolence. In time she would attempt to answer many of them personally. Even in her misery, her sense of duty and politeness remained. To Queen Victoria she wrote: “I have received the letter which Your Majesty has had the kindness to write. I am deeply grateful for this expression of tender sympathy, coming as they do, from a heart which from its own sorrow, can appreciate the intense grief I now endure.” Victoria had suffered the loss of Prince Albert.

Deeply traumatized by her husband’s murder, Mary Lincoln remained mostly bedridden in the White House for the next five weeks. She did not attend any of the president’s funerals, either in Washington, along the route of the funeral train, or the final one on May 4, 1865, in Springfield. Finally on May 23, Mary walked down the White House stairs for the last time, accompanied by her two sons and Elizabeth Keckley.

The former First Lady returned to Illinois and there began the effort to settle her husband’s estate. For a time, she lived in Chicago with her remaining sons, Robert and Tad. Embroiled in controversy over her finances and allegations of insanity, Mary wrote impassioned letters to friends and acquaintances, begging for money to pay her debts. She tried to sell the clothes she had worn while First Lady, and continued buying fancy jewelry clothing, though for years she never wore anything but black in public.

After Robert Lincoln married in September 1868, Mary and Tad moved to Germany, and from there began her battle with Congress about her presidential widow’s pension.

Also in 1868, her former dressmaker and confidante, Elizabeth Keckley, published Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House. Although this book has, over time, proven to be an extremely valuable resource in the understanding and appreciation of Mary Todd Lincoln, the former First Lady regarded it as the breach of a close friendship.

In an act approved July 14, 1870, the United States Congress granted Mary Tod Lincoln a life pension as a president’s widow, in the amount of $3000 a year. She had lobbied hard for this pension, writing numerous letters to Congress and relying on patrons such as Simon Cameron to work on her behalf. Almost crazed on the subject of money, she insisted that as the wife of the leading figure in the land, she deserved a pension just as much as the widows of soldiers.

In 1871, Mary returned to the United States. Eighteen-year-old Tad caught a cold on the trip back and never fully recovered from a respiratory infection. On July 15, 1871, he died of pneumonia and pleurisy in Chicago. Mary had now lost her mother, father, husband, three half-brothers and three sons. “One by one,” she said, “I have consigned to their resting place my idolized ones, and now, in this world there is nothing left for me but the deepest anguish and desolation.”

Mental Instability
After Tad’s sudden death, Mary’s mental health deteriorated rapidly. Increasingly dependent on medications such as laudanum and chloral hydrate for a variety of physical and emotional ailments, she had delusions, hallucinations and irrational fears of people trying to kill her. Her only living son, Robert, on his way to becoming a prominent attorney, became concerned for her health and safety.

Robert arranged an insanity trial after agonizing over his distressed mother’s erratic behavior. Illinois law required a jury trial for involuntary commitment to a mental institution. In a June 1, 1875, letter to Mary’s friend Sally Orne, Robert explained his difficult decision. “Six physicians in council informed me that by longer delay I was making myself morally responsible for some very probable tragedy, which might occur at any moment.”

Mary did not realize that a public trial awaited her, and was forcibly taken to the courthouse on May 19, 1875. Isaac Arnold, a family friend who reluctantly became her defense attorney, did not contest the case, and allowed 17 witnesses to testify to her unstable condition, while not calling any witnesses of his own. During the trial, Robert testified, “I have no doubt my mother is insane. She has long been a source of great anxiety to me.”

On May 20, 1875, Mary Todd Lincoln was declared insane at the age of 56, and confined to Bellevue Place, a private sanitarium in Batavia, Illinois. This news shocked the nation. The trial’s verdict required Mary to be committed, but allowed her to stay in a private hospital such as Bellevue if finances allowed it. She also could have stayed in Robert’s home, but her tumultuous presence there four years earlier had caused Robert’s wife to leave temporarily.

Dr. Norbert Hirschhorn and Dr. Robert G. Feldman maintain that, “Symptoms imputed as insanity at her trial clearly had their origin in the organic disease of tabes dorsalis. The bizarre behavior in 1875 leading to hospitalization, with elements of acute anxiety, insomnia and delusions, most resembles post-traumatic stress disorder, coinciding with the tenth anniversary of her husband’s murder.”

Later in the day after the verdict was announced, Mary was so enraged that she attempted suicide. She went to the hotel pharmacist and ordered enough laudanum to kill herself. However, the pharmacist was suspicious and gave her a placebo.

With control of his mother’s finances, Robert Lincoln tried to pay down his mother’s debts, and returned much of the jewelry she had purchased but never paid for.

Meanwhile, Mary smuggled letters to her lawyer, James Bradwell, and his wife, Myra Bradwell, who was not only her friend but also a feminist lawyer and fellow spiritualist. Bradwell believed Mrs. Lincoln was not insane, and filed an appeal on Mary’s behalf.

Mary wrote to the editor of the Chicago Times, known for its sensational journalism. Soon, the public embarrassments Robert had hoped to avoid were looming, and his character and motives were in question. The director of Bellevue, who at Mary’s trial had assured the jury she would benefit from treatment at his facility, now in the face of potentially damaging publicity, declared her well enough to leave.

The former First Lady left Bellevue Place on September 11, 1875, and was released to the care of her sister Elizabeth in Springfield, to live in the same house where she had married Abraham Lincoln. On June 19, 1876, another court ruled that Mary had regained her sanity, and and was competent to manage her own affairs.

Mary traveled to Europe again, staying primarily in France at health spas. The former First Lady’s final years were marked by declining health, possibly with undiagnosed diabetes, spinal arthritis and other ailments. She suffered from severe cataracts that affected her eyesight, which may have contributed to her increasing susceptibility to falls. In 1879, she suffered spinal cord injuries in a fall from a step ladder.

After four years abroad, Mary returned the United States to live again in the Edwards home in October 1880. She spent much of her last year in seclusion there. The following year, Robert visited with his eldest daughter, Mary Todd Lincoln, and Mary and Robert reconciled somewhat. Mary’s pension was increased to $5000 in 1882.

Mary Todd Lincoln died on July 16, 1882, at the age of 63, possibly after having a stroke, although the doctor wrote “paralysis” on the death certificate. She was buried next to her husband and three sons at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield. She was buried with her wedding ring, thin from wear, which still bore the words “Love Is Eternal.”

Dedicated in 1874, the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield, Illinois, is the final resting place of Abraham Lincoln, his wife Mary, and three of their four sons, Edward, William, and Thomas. The eldest son, Robert Lincoln, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The 117-foot Tomb, designed by sculptor Larkin Mead, is constructed of brick sheathed with Quincy granite. Interior rooms of the Tomb are finished in a highly polished marble trimmed with bronze.


Mary Todd Lincoln

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Author Susan Higginbotham to History … the Interesting Bits with a wonderful article about the correspondence between Mary Lincoln and Queen Victoria.

The First Lady and the Queen

Mary Lincoln in widow’s weeds

Of the black-draped widows of the nineteenth century, surely two of the best known are Queen Victoria, who gave her name to the age, and Mary Lincoln, wife to the martyred American President. Bereaved just a few years apart, they would spend the rest of their lives in mourning.

Queen Victoria’s consort, Albert, died on December 14, 1861, at Windsor Palace. In due time, a formal letter of condolence arrived from the United States, signed by Abraham Lincoln, assuring the queen, “The American People . . . deplore his death and sympathize in Your Majesty’s irreparable bereavement with an unaffected sorrow. This condolence may not be altogether ineffectual, since we are sure it emanates from only virtuous motives and natural affection. I do not dwell upon it, however, because I know that the Divine hand that has wounded, is the only one that can heal.”

Mary Lincoln acknowledged the royal loss in her own way. On February 5, 1862, the Lincolns, at Mary’s suggestion, held a magnificent reception at the White House. The New York Herald reported the next day, “Mrs. Lincoln received the company with gracious courtesy. She was dressed in a magnificent white satin robe, with a black flounce half a yard wide, looped with black and white bows, a low corsage trimmed with black lace, and a bouquet of crepe myrtle on her bosom. Her head-dress was a wreath of black and white flowers, with a bunch of crepe myrtle on the right side. The only ornaments were a necklace, earrings, brooch and bracelets, of pearl. The dress was simple and elegant. The half mourning style was assumed in respect to Queen Victoria . . . whose representative was one of the most distinguished among the guests on this occasion.”

Not all of the press shared the Herald‘s enthusiasm. The country had settled into what would prove to be years of civil war, and the extravagant reception struck some as being in poor taste. The Pittsburgh Gazette of February 8, 1862, titling its short piece “Our Court Gone Into Mourning!” quoted the excerpt above, and then commented succinctly, “Don’t larf.”

Sadly, Mary would soon be wearing full mourning, and not as a courtesy for a distant queen. Her son Willie had fallen ill, and Mary had spent much of the reception going to and from his bedside. Though the prognosis initially appeared hopeful, Willie’s condition soon deteriorated, and he died on February 20, 1862. Mary could not bear to attend his funeral.

Unlike Queen Victoria, who put her entire court into mourning for Albert, Mary had only herself to attend to. (Unlike women, who when grieving for their closest relatives were expected to muffle themselves in deep, lusterless black if their means permitted it, men could get by simply with a black band around a sleeve or a hat–or with no mourning apparel at all.) Still, there was a fashion aspect to mourning, to which entire establishments catered, and Mary did not permit her terrible grief to prevent her from giving precise instructions to Ruth Harris, the hapless milliner who had the task of putting together a bonnet. “I want a very very fine black straw for myself–trimmed with folds of jet fine blk crape,” she instructed on May 17, 1862. Alas, the bonnet did not quite suit, so later that month, Mary explained, “I wished a much finer blk straw bonnet for mourning–without the gloss.”

By April 1865, however, Mary was wearing garments in an array of colors and looking forward to a brighter future. The war was all but won, and although President Lincoln had just begun his second term of office, he was looking forward to doing some traveling once he returned to private life. He hoped to visit Europe, as did Mary.

Abraham Lincoln, of course, never realized this dream, but was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, and died the next morning.

First page of the letter from Queen Victoria to Mary Lincoln

Several weeks later, Mary, who remained at the White House for over a month after her husband’s death, received the following black-bordered letter:

Though a stranger to you I cannot remain silent when so terrible a calamity has fallen upon you & your country, & must personally express my deep & heartfelt sympathy with you under the shocking circumstances of your present dreadful misfortune.

No one can better appreciate than I can, who am myself utterly broken-hearted by the loss of my own beloved Husband, who was the Light of my Life, — my Stay — my All, — what your own sufferings must be and I earnestly pray that you may be supported by Him to whom alone the sorely stricken can look for comfort, in this hour of heavy affliction.


Born in to a wealthy, political family on December 13, 1818, Mary Todd Lincoln was sophisticated, educated, and versed in politics. On the surface, her success in the White House seemed assured. Yet, few women in American history have endured as much tragedy and controversy.

Mary was the daughter of a prominent Lexington native Robert Smith Todd and his first wife Eliza Parker, who died when Mary was six years old. Mary was the fourth of the eventual sixteen children born in her father’s two marriages. A businessman and politician, Robert provided his children with social standing, education, and material advantages that Mary's future husband, Abraham Lincoln, lacked in his own youth.

Lexington, known as the “Athens of the West” at the time, had numerous educational opportunities for affluent citizens, and Mary completed her extensive education under the tutelage of French immigrant Charlotte Mentelle. At the Todd's large home, maintained by enslaved men and women, Mary mingled with influential political guests. The most prominent of these was three-time presidential candidate Senator Henry Clay, who lived less than two miles away.

A mutual interest in politics was one of the things that drew Mary to attorney Abraham Lincoln, whom she met while visiting an older sister in Springfield, Illinois. Mary exchanged her life of relative ease and privilege for that of a middle-class wife when she married Lincoln in 1842.

Mary’s primary roles from 1842-1860 were wife, household manager, and mother to four sons. Additionally, she actively supported Abraham Lincoln’s political career, offering advice and hosting events. When Lincoln learned that he had had won the presidential election of 1860, he reportedly ran home yelling "Mary, Mary, we are elected."

She took on the role of first lady-from hosting balls to visiting troops-with enthusiasm. However, controversy and tragedy marked Mary Todd Lincoln’s life in the White House. Some mistakenly viewed her as a rustic from the “West." Others questioned her loyalties because of her family connections. While six Todd siblings supported the Union, eight Todd siblings supported the Confederacy through marriage or military service. Not surprisingly, divided loyalties in the Todd family fueled much controversy in the nation’s press.

The White House years were difficult for Mary Lincoln. The pressures and anxieties of the Civil War were unrelenting. Mary watched her husband age under the strain. In early 1862, when their eleven-year-old son Willie died from typhoid fever, Mary was grief-stricken. He was the second of three Lincoln children who would die before adulthood. The heaviest blow fell on April 14, 1865, with Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

Mary survived her husband by seventeen years. During these years, she traveled internationally, fought for a widow’s pension, explored the practice of spiritualism, and continued to raise her youngest son Tad. Sadly, Tad died shortly after his eighteenth birthday in 1871. Four years later, at the instigation of her only surviving child Robert, Mary was confined against her will for several months at an asylum in Batavia, Illinois. Mary Lincoln’s mental health continues to be debated by historians and is frequently the subject of pop culture references to the former first lady.

Mary Lincoln lived independently in Europe for several years following her controversial institutionalization. Illness forced her to return to the United States, where she died July 1882 in the home of her sister Elizabeth, in which she married Lincoln almost forty years before. Her remains are entombed, along with her husband’s, in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois.


Mary Lincoln

As a girlhood companion remembered her, Mary Todd was vivacious and impulsive, with an interesting personality—but “she now and then could not restrain a witty, sarcastic speech that cut deeper than she intended . . .” A young lawyer summed her up in 1840: “the very creature of excitement.” All of these attributes marked her life, bringing her both happiness and tragedy.

She was born on December 13, 1818, to Eliza Parker and Robert Smith Todd, pioneer settlers of Kentucky. Mary lost her mother before the age of seven. Her father remarried and Mary remembered her childhood as “desolate” although she belonged to the aristocracy of Lexington, with high-spirited social life and a sound private education.

When she was nearly 21, she went to Springfield, Illinois, to live with her sister Elizabeth Todd Edwards. Here she met Abraham Lincoln—in his own words, “a poor nobody then.” Three years later, after a stormy courtship and broken engagement, they were married. Though opposites in background and temperament, they were united by an enduring love and Mary’s confidence in her husband’s ability and his gentle consideration of her excitable ways.

Their years in Springfield brought hard work, a family of boys, and reduced circumstances to the pleasure-loving girl who had never felt responsibility before. Lincoln’s single term in Congress (1847–49), gave Mary and the boys a winter in Washington, but scant opportunity for social life. Finally, her unwavering faith in her husband won ample justification with his election as president in 1860.

Though her position fulfilled her high social ambitions, Mrs. Lincoln’s years in the White House mingled misery with triumph. She spent exorbitant amounts money on dresses and furnishings, stirring resentful comment from a nation at war. While the Civil War dragged on, Southerners scorned her as a traitor to her birth, and citizens loyal to the Union suspected her of treason. When she entertained, critics accused her of unpatriotic extravagance. When, utterly distraught, she curtailed her entertaining after her son Willie’s death in 1862, they accused her of shirking her social duties. Yet Lincoln, watching her put her guests at ease during a White House reception, appreciated her fulfillment of White House duties.

Her husband’s assassination in 1865 shattered Mary Todd Lincoln. The next 17 years held nothing but sorrow. With her son “Tad” she traveled abroad in search of health, tortured by distorted ideas of her financial situation while critics skewered her in the press. After Tad died in 1871, she slipped into a world of illusion where poverty and murder pursued her.

A misunderstood and tragic figure, she passed away on July 16, 1882 at her sister’s home in Springfield—the same house from which she had walked as the bride of Abraham Lincoln, 40 years before.


Watch the video: How Mary Lincons 2021 Birthday Party Went Down (January 2022).