Mary Todd Lincoln
1818 - 1882
Wife of Abraham Lincolnby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Throughout her life, Mary Todd Lincoln had many ups and downs. The death of a husband and three children all took a toll on her that never completely healed. And although she had a kind heart, she often spent way too much money on unnecessary extravagances. By the end of her life, Mary Lincoln was a woman who was in a state of emotionally and physical deterioration. The less known wife of a well know president, Mary Todd Lincoln’s life consisted of happiness mixed with sadness, loss, and pain.
Born into a Kentucky family on December 13, 1818, Mary Ann Todd was the fourth out seven children born to Robert Smith and Eliza Parker Todd. Her father, a prosperous store owner and state senator, was a very prominent figure in their town and provided well for his family. Shortly after Mary’s mother gave birth to their seventh child, she died. Mary was only six years old. One and a half years later her father married another woman from Frankfurt, Kentucky named Elizabeth (Betsy) Humphreys, a union that brought nine more children into the family. Elizabeth was not sympathetic to her stepchildren and is believed to have caused some of the insecurities later in Mary’s life.1
Growing up, Mary had one luxury that most women in her day and time did not, an education. Her father, unlike most men, believed that women should be well educated; so by the time she was eight, she began her formal education a Shelby Female Academy. At the age of 14, she enrolled in another academy just outside of Lexington, Madame Victorie Mentelle’s select academy for young ladies. From there she spent three months with her sister Frances in Springfield, Illinois; and then another two years at Shelby. 1
Upon finishing her schooling in 1839, at the age of not quite 21, Mary moved back to Illinois; this time to live with her sister and brother in law, Elizabeth and Ninian Edwards. It was here that she met the 30 year old Abraham Lincoln at a cotillion. Mary and Abraham began courting immediately after their first meeting. During the next few years, the couple were engaged, but decided to break it off. And after a period of frustration and misunderstand they got back together and decided to marry, with the help of mutual friends Mr. and Mrs. Simeon Francis. They were married the Edwards’ home on the evening of November 4, 1842, amidst a small gathering of family and friends. On Mary’s gold wedding band were engraved the words “Love is Eternal.”2
With Abraham earning a modest income as an aspiring lawyer, he and Mary started out their lives together in an eight dollar per week room at the Globe Tavern in Springfield. That was when they had their first of four sons Robert, in 1843. Robert was followed by Edward in 1846 (Edward died when he was only four), William in 1850, and Thomas in 1853. The Lincoln family lived in a small three room cottage for six months before moving into the only house they would ever own.
Successful attorney and politician, Abraham was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1849; Mary and the children lived with him for part of his term. Once is term was over, the family was back together again in Springfield. His mind did not turn to politics for five more years, and by the year 1960, he was elected the United States 16th president.3
During her time in the White House, Mary became overly extravagant and a spendthrift. At one memorable moment, over a four month stretch she had gotten over 400 pairs of gloves. She also went to extreme lengths to redecorate both the White House and herself. In 1862, their son William died, and Mary spent a fortune on a new black wardrobe which she wore for an entire year. Also, during her mourning for William, it is said that she would visit mediums and spiritualists in attempt to reach him. But these accusations are not entirely proven to be true. 4
Although she became whimsical in her spending and gathered up large bills, Mary had a kind heart and strongly believed in the North’s cause during the Civil War. She spent much of her time at the hospitals visiting with the wounded; as well as: bringing them flowers, food, reading to them and writing letters for them, and at one point, she raised $1,000 for a Christmas dinner for the soldiers. Her son Thomas would often accompany her on the trips. Despite all she did for the soldiers, Mary was still often criticized for her vast spending and also because of her Sothern background.
Five days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox in 1865, Mary and Abraham attended Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre. It was then, as Mary held her husband’s hand that he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. In May of that year, Mary took Robert and Thomas to live in Chicago. She attempted to raise money by selling some of her old clothes to venders in New York, but was unsuccessful in every attempt. Robert, who was on his way to becoming an attorney, was very embarrassed by his mother. Two years later, Mary took Thomas and went to live in Europe for three years until 1871. While Thomas attended a school in Germany, she visited many countries.
On returning home, Thomas caught a cold that he never recovered from and died shortly after. That last tragic building block sent Mary’s already fragile mental health into a rapid downward spiral. She began having hallucinations and delusions, as well as constant fears of people stealing from her or killing her. Robert became strongly fearful of his mothers condition. And after a juried trial May 20, 1875, Mary was declared insane and sentenced to Bellevue Nursing and Rest Home in Batavia, Illinois. After only four months at Bellevue, Mary was declared sane by yet another jury and sent to live in the home of her sister Elizabeth, where she and Abraham were married.
After three years of living with her sister, Mary again returned to Europe and visited many spas due to her ailments. Her physical health was quickly declining as well, possibly with undiagnosed diabetes, spinal arthritis and other ailments, including migraine headaches. She finally returned to Illinois in 1880. On July 16, 1882, at the age of 63, Mary finally passes away, the doctor wrote paralysis on the death certificate, since it is believed she had a stroke. She was buried next to her husband and three sons at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield.1
Mary Todd Lincoln believed in the ultimate justice of God. Although she had many problems, she had a kind heart and a kind hand. A quote by her says, “Clouds and darkness surround us, yet Heaven is just, and the day of triumph will surely come, when justice and truth will be vindicated. Our wrongs will be made right, and we will once more, taste the blessings of freedom.”
(1)"Mary Todd Lincoln biography,” Women in History Mary Todd Lincoln biography. (accessed December 12, 2008).
(2)"THE DAY MISS TODD BECAME MRS. LINCOLN” Abraham Lincoln Reserch Site http://home.att.net/~rjnorton/Lincoln49.html. (accessed December 12, 2008).
(3)"AN OVERVIEW OF MARY TODD LINCOLN'S LIFE” Mary Todd Lincoln Research Site http://home.att.net/~rjnorton/Lincoln76.html. (accessed December 12, 2008).
(4)"Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882)” Mr. Lincoln White House http://www.mrlincolnswhitehouse.org/inside.asp?ID=15&subjectID=2. (accessed December 12, 2008).
"AN OVERVIEW OF MARY TODD LINCOLN'S LIFE” Mary Todd Lincoln Research Site http://home.att.net/~rjnorton/Lincoln76.html. (accessed December 12, 2008).