Mary Ann Todd Lincoln

December 13,1818 -
July 16,1882

Mary Ann Todd was born in Kentucky, the third daughter of Eliza Parker and Robert Smith Todd, who had six children survive infancy. Mary's parents were scions of important families in Kentucky and were socially prominent.

Mary remembered her childhood as "desolate." Her mother died when she was 6, and she never got along well with her stepmother. She attended Dr. John Ward's academy and the select finishing school of Madame Victorie Mentelle. In 1839 she went to Springfield, Illinois, where she lived with her older sister. She met rising politician Abraham Lincoln there and they were married on November 4, 1842.

The tone of subsequent correspondence shows that Lincoln and Mary had their fair share of disagreements, but probably no more than are incidental to any long marriage. There is no reliable evidence that their marriage was especially stormy. Mary frequently suffered from headaches, and her husband was not only absent for a great deal of the time but also probably somewhat deficient in the social graces to which she was accustomed.

After her husband's election as President, Mary faced the challenge of adapting to life in Washington. She felt that the eyes of the nation would be upon her and "The very fact of having grown up in the West, subjects me to more searching observation. This anxiety exaggerated an unfortunate strain in her character which made it difficult for her to think and act rationally about money. She was alternately miserly and extravagant, and Washington life became for her a gigantic, and often socially and politically embarrassing spending spree.

Despite her own anxieties, the considerable hostility of the rather pro-Southern Washington socialites to the first Republican administration, and the doubts of the East in general, Mary Lincoln performed her social functions adequately. In managing the Executive Mansion she had her friends and her detractors.After the death of Willie Lincoln, her son, in 1862, Mrs. Lincoln was never quite the same again. She never again went into the room where he died and was almost inconsolable. The assassination of her husband three years later plummeted her into a grief so deep she could take no part in any of the funeral ceremonies. Her bereavement and anxieties over her debts made her wretched and dominated the subject matter of her letters until her death.

Increasing signs of instability following the death of her son, Tad, in 1871, led only remaining son, Robert, to fear that her sanity was impaired. In 1875, he caused his mother to stand trial for insanity. The court judged her insane and committed her to a private sanitarium. The night after her trial she tried to commit suicide. Robert gained control over her finances. After four months, Mrs. Lincoln was released and in a second trial in 1876, she was judged sane. By 1882, however, her health had declined seriously and on July 16, she at last realized her often expressed wish to join her beloved husband and children in death.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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