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Mary Ann Todd Lincoln (December 13, 1818 – July 16, 1882) was the wife of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, and was First Lady of the United States from 1861 to 1865.

Life before the White House

Born in Lexington, Kentuckymarker, the daughter of Robert Smith Todd, a banker, and Elizabeth Parker-Todd, Mary was raised in comfort and refinement. When Mary was seven, her mother died; her father married Elizabeth "Betsy" Humphreys-Todd in 1826. Mary had a difficult relationship with her stepmother. Beginning in 1832, Mary's childhood home was what is now known as the Mary Todd Lincoln Housemarker, a 14-room upper-class residence in Lexington. From her father's marriages to her mother and stepmother, she had 15 siblings.

Mary Todd left home at an early age to attend a fine school as part of an effort to avoid her step-mother. She learned to speak French fluently, studied dance, drama, music and social graces. By the age of 20, in October of 1839, she had a ready wit and sparking personality attuned to politics that made her quite popular among Springfield's gentry when she began living with her sister Elizabeth Edwards. Elizabeth (wife of Ninian W. Edwards, son of a former governor) served as Mary's guardian while Mary lived in Springfield. Although Mary was courted by the rising young lawyer and politician Stephen A. Douglas and others, her courtship with Abraham Lincoln resulted in an engagement that was broken and eventually reaffirmed. Abraham Lincoln, age 33, married Mary Todd, age 23, on November 4, 1842, at the home of Mrs. Edwards in Springfield, Illinoismarker.

Lincoln and Douglas would eventually become political rivals in the great Lincoln-Douglas debates for a seat representing Illinois to the United States Senate in 1858. Although Douglas successfully secured the seat by election in the Illinois legislature, Lincoln became famous for his position on slavery which generated national support for him.

Lincoln pursued his increasingly successful career as a Springfield lawyer, and Mary supervised their growing household. Their home together from 1844 until 1861 still stands in Springfield, and is now the Lincoln Home National Historic Sitemarker.

Their children, all born in Springfieldmarker, were:

By all accounts, both Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln were indulgent, careful, kind, and loving parents. Of these four sons, only Robert and Tad survived to adulthood, and only Robert outlived his mother.

During Lincoln's prairie years as an Illinois circuit lawyer, Mary Lincoln was left on her own to raise their children and run their household. Mary Lincoln was a close political partner to her husband and socially supported him and served as an advisor to him in his political dealings.

White House years

During her White House years, Mary Lincoln faced many difficulties generated by severe divisions within the country. Her family was from a border state where slavery was permitted. Kentucky was known for families where siblings fought each other in the Civil War and Mary's family was no exception. Some of her step brothers served in the Confederate Army and were killed in action. Mary, however, was staunchly behind her husband in his quest to save the Union and maintained a strict political loyalty to him. It was difficult for Mary to serve as her husband's First Lady in a Washington, D.C, because it was dominated by Eastern and Southern culture. Mary and Lincoln were from the West, Lincoln being the first Western President. Social rivalries, spoil seeking solicitors, and bating newspapers in a climate of high national intrigue were difficult to maneuver in the White House's social responsibilities during Civil War Washington.

Mary Lincoln suffered from severe headaches throughout her adult life, and coupled with the deaths of three of her four children, the deaths of siblings killed in the Civil War, and her husband's assassination, Mary sometimes faced difficult bouts of depression and mourning. She also suffered a severe head injury in a carriage accident during her White House years, which was believed to have been an assassination attempt focused on the president, who was not present at the time.

During her tenure at the White House, she 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. Her White House duties included many social functions at the White House. To her, presentation of the White House was as important for the stability of the Union in much the same reasons that completion of the Capitol was addressed during the Civil War. She has often been blamed for spending too much on the White House, but she felt, in spite of overspending her budget on the House, that it was important to the maintenance of prestige of the Presidency.

Assassination survivor and later life

In April 1865, as the Civil War came to an end, Mrs. Lincoln hoped to renew her happiness as the First Lady of a nation at peace. However, on April 14, 1865, as Mary Lincoln sat with her husband to watch the comic play Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatremarker, President Lincoln was mortally wounded by an assassinmarker. Mrs. Lincoln accompanied her husband across the street to the Petersen Housemarker, where Lincoln's Cabinet was summoned. Mary was with her husband in the Peterson House through the night along with her son Robert. The President died on the following day, April 15. Mary Lincoln suffered the loss of two sons and the death of her husband drove her to mourn and wear black for the rest of her life.

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 over the death of her husband, 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 herself had suffered the loss of Prince Albert.

As a widow, Mrs. Lincoln returned to Illinois. In 1868, Mrs. Lincoln's former confidante, Elizabeth Keckly, 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 a breach of what she had considered to be a close friendship.

In an act approved July 14, 1870, the United States Congress granted Mrs. Lincoln a life pension for being the widow of President Lincoln, in the amount of $3,000 a year.

For Mary Lincoln, the death of her son Thomas (Tad), in July 1871, added on top of the death of two of her other sons and her husband, led to an overpowering sense of grief augmented by her previous history of mental instability. Mrs. Lincoln's sole surviving son, Robert Lincoln, a rising young Chicago lawyer, was alarmed as his mother's behavior became increasingly erratic. In March 1875, during a visit to Jacksonville, Florida, Mary Lincoln became unshakably convinced that Robert was deathly ill. She traveled to Chicago to find him in fine health. On her arrival, she told her son that someone had tried to poison her on the train and that a “wandering Jew” had taken her pocketbook but would return it later. During her stay in Chicago with her son, Mary spent money lavishly on useless items, such as draperies which she never hung and elaborate dresses which she never wore, due to the fact that she only wore black after her husband's assassination. She would also walk around the city with her $56,000 in government bonds sewn into her petticoats. Despite this large amount of money, the $3,000 a year stipend from Congress, and her extravagant spending, Mrs. Lincoln had persistent and irrational fears of poverty. After Mrs. Lincoln went into an 'episode' during which it was feared she would jump out of the window to escape a non-existent fire, it was determined that Mrs. Lincoln should be institutionalized.

Fearing that his mother was a danger to herself, Robert Lincoln was left with no choice but to have Mrs. Lincoln committed to a psychiatric hospital in Batavia, Illinoismarker in 1875. After the court proceedings Mary Lincoln was so enraged that she attempted suicide. She went to the hotel pharmacist and ordered enough laudanum to kill herself. However, the pharmacist caught on to her plans and gave her a placebo.

On May 20, 1875, she arrived at Bellevue Place, a private, upscale sanitarium in the Fox River Valley. With his mother in the hospital, Robert Lincoln was left with control of Mary Lincoln's finances. Three months after being installed in Bellevue Place, Mary Lincoln engineered her escape. She smuggled letters to her lawyer and his wife, who was not only her friend but also a feminist lawyer and fellow spiritualist. She also 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 go to Springfield to live with her sister as she desired. She was released into the custody of her sister, Mrs. Elizabeth Edwards in Springfield and in 1876 was once again declared competent to manage her own affairs. The committal proceedings led to a profound estrangement between Lincoln and his mother, and they never fully reconciled.

Mrs. Lincoln spent the next four years abroad taking up residence in Pau, Francemarker. She spent much of this time travelling in Europe. However, the former First Lady's final years were marked by declining health. She suffered from severe cataracts that affected her eyesight. This may have contributed to her increasing susceptibility to falls. In 1879, she suffered spinal cord injuries in a fall from a step ladder.


During the early 1880s, Mary Todd Lincoln lived, housebound, in the Springfield, Illinois residence of her sister Elizabeth Edwards. She died there on July 16, 1882, age 63, and was interred within the Lincoln Tombmarker in Oak Ridge Cemeterymarker in Springfield along side her husband.

Miscellaneous notes

See also


  1. Catherine Clinton, Mrs. Lincoln: A Life (New York: HarperCollins, 2009)
  2. Mary Todd Biography
  3. Mary Todd Lincoln House
  4. Turner, Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters, p. 225
  5. Turner, Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters, p. 230
  6. Acts of 1870, Chapter 277
  9. Mary Todd GenealogySee Generation 5, Child "C" Grandchild 3 for William L (WLT), Generation 5 Child "G" = Generation 6 (grand) Child D for Mary (MATL) Shorthand Common Ancestor 5 WLT = 5C3, MATL= 5G4 = 6D = 7. 5C & 5G are brothers, which makes their children first cousins. The Revolutionary William is generation 3 child "I" The MATL/WLT line follows 3B to 4D to 5'


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