Saturday, January 30, 2016

Mary Todd Lincoln: First Lady of the Civil War

Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Todd Lincoln 
Mary Todd Lincoln was the wife of Abraham Lincoln, one of the most celebrated Presidents the United States has ever had. She was an odd match for Abraham Lincoln in that she came from a wealthy family that, for the most part, sided with the Confederacy. Despite this, she shared a few common interests with her husband that were very important. She was quite interested in politics and she was a strong advocate for the abolishment of slavery. She led an interesting life from being born to wealth and marrying the future president to spending her twilight years defending her sanity and living abroad or with her sister. If there was one thing you could say about Mary Todd Lincoln, it would be that her life was never boring.

Mary Todd was born on December 13, 1818 in Lexington, Kentucky. Her parents were Eliza Parker and Robert Smith Todd. She had six brothers and sisters, one of which died when he was a toddler. As a child, she never wanted for anything. Her family had plenty of money and Mary never had to work or learn a trade. Her childhood wasn’t all wonderful, however. Eliza Todd died on July 6, 1825, when Mary was only six years old. Her father remarried the following year, to a woman named Elizabeth Humphreys.

Mary Todd was known to have complained about her childhood, but there is no evidence that these complaints were more than just the grumblings of a discontented stepdaughter. After her father’s second marriage, nine more children were bon into the family, one of which died in infancy. All together, Mary had 15 siblings and step-siblings. Nonetheless, she was provided for well and had a decent education for a wealthy girl of the time. As she grew older, she became interested in politics, which would play a huge role in her adult life.

Mary Todd met her future husband when she was twenty years old. She had gone to Springfield, Illinois with her sister and met Abraham Lincoln while she was there. They became a couple and were engaged off and on for three years. On November 4, 1842, the couple married at Mary’s sister Elizabeth’s home in Springfield. For the first two years of their marriage they lived in Globe Tavern, where their first son, Robert was born on August 1, 1843. The following year they purchased their own home in Springfield.

Two years after Mary and Abraham purchased their first home, they welcomed a second son into their family. Edward Lincoln was born on March 10, 1846. Unfortunately, in December of 1849, Eddie became gravely ill with what the doctor thought was diphtheria. The little boy passed away on February 1, 1850; he was only three years old. Mary Todd Lincoln gave birth to her third son the very same year that she lost her second. William Lincoln was born on December 21, 1850. Three years later, she had her fourth and final child. The baby was born on April 14, 1853; it was another boy, that the couple named Thomas (he was affectionately called Tad by his parents).

Throughout this time in her life, Mary supported her husband’s career and was known for speaking publicly about his political campaigns. The pair shared the same views when it came to politics, for the most part and it appeared that Abraham enjoyed his wife’s involvement in his work. Mary Todd Lincoln became even more of a public figure when her husband was inaugurated in 1861. You might even say she was something of a spectacle.

During her time at the White House, Mary managed to put her family in debt with frivolous purchases of fine clothes and decorations for the White House. While her country was being torn apart by Civil War and families were hungry and losing their homes and men, Mary Todd Lincoln was spending like royalty. This caused some animosity toward her from the people of the United States. On top of that, her family was on the Confederate side of the war and four of her siblings were fighting for that side (two of her half-brothers were killed in action).

So, on both sides she was disliked for her spending, on the Union side she was disliked for coming from Confederate stock and on the Confederate side she was viewed as a traitor. However, Mary stuck by her guns and worked for the abolishment of slavery and was involved in organizations that raised money to help freed slaves get on their feet. She also worked as a volunteer nurse at Union hospitals. Despite her lack of control when it came to money, it is obvious that, at heart, Mary Todd Lincoln was a humanitarian that simply did not understand the need to cut back in times of war.

Mary Todd Lincoln could understand the meaning of loss, however. She had lost her second son and by 1862, she was about to lose her third. William came down with something that resembled typhoid fever and died on February 20, 1862. He was only eleven years old. Three years later, her husband was assassinated while she sat next to him, enjoying a night at the theater. In the space of fifteen years, Mary had watched two of her sons die and now she had watched her husband get murdered. Her life wasn’t about to get any easier.

Mary moved out of the White House on May 23, 1865. From there, she moved to Chicago and then to Germany with her son Thomas in 1868. She stayed abroad with her son for three years and they returned to the United States in 1871. Tad apparently caught something, on the ship to the States, that gave him a horrible cough. By the time they made it back to Chicago, he was seriously ill. He died on July 15, 1871 at the age of eighteen. He may have contracted tuberculosis. Now Mary had lost three of her four children and her beloved husband. Now, her fourth child was about to betray her, at least that is how she saw it.

Within a few years of Tad’s death, Robert Lincoln said he was noticing that his mother was behaving oddly and that he thought she was losing her sanity. He had Mary tried and she was judged to be insane. In 1875, she was forced to go to an insane asylum. The very same day she was checked-in, she tried to kill herself twice. A female lawyer took pity on poor Mary and fought to have her removed from the asylum. After four months in the asylum, Mary Lincoln was released and sent to live with her sister in Springfield. Another trial was held on June 19, 1876; this time, Mary was found to be sane.

She moved to France after the trial and stayed away from the United States for four years. She returned in October of 1880 to live with her sister again. She lived with her sister for two years and died in her home on July 16, 1882. Mary had died in the same house that she had married Abraham in forty years before.


Mary Todd Lincoln, retrieved 9/2/09,

First Lady Biography: Mary Lincoln, retrieved 9/2/09,

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