See her letters, ed. by J. G. Turner and L. L. Turner (1972); biographies by R. P. Randall (1953), C. Sandburg (new ed. 1972), I. Ross (1973), and C. Clinton (2009).
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. After her marriage she was always known as Mary Lincoln, never Mary Todd Lincoln.
Her father married Elizabeth "Betsy" Humphreys Todd in 1826. Mary Todd had a difficult relationship with her stepmother. Beginning in 1832, Mary Todd's home was what is now known as the Mary Todd Lincoln House, a 14-room upper-class residence in Lexington. From her father's marriages to her mother and stepmother, Mary Todd had 15 siblings.
At the age of twenty, in 1839, Mary Todd left the family home and moved to Springfield, Illinois, where her sister Elizabeth was already living. Although the flirtatious and intelligent Mary Todd was courted by the rising young lawyer and politician Stephen A. Douglas, Mary was unexpectedly attracted by Douglas's lower-status rival , and fellow lawyer, Abraham Lincoln. Elizabeth facilitated their courtship and introduced Mary to Abraham on 16 December. It is reported that, on learning her surname was spelled with two "d"s, he retorted "Why? One was enough for God". After a troubled engagement that was marked by at least one breakup, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln were married on November 4, 1842. Almost exactly nine months later, on August 1, 1843, their first son, Robert Todd Lincoln, was born.
Abraham Lincoln pursued his increasingly successful career as a Springfield lawyer, and Mary Todd supervised their growing household. Their home together from 1844 until 1861 survives in Springfield, and is now the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.
Their children, all born in Springfield, were:
Of these four sons, only Robert and Tad survived into adulthood, and only Robert outlived his mother.
Mary Todd Lincoln was deeply in love with her husband, and sometimes resented his absence from their home as he practiced law and campaigned for political office. During the 1850s, however, Mrs. Lincoln staunchly supported her husband as he faced the growing crisis caused by American slavery. This concluded in Lincoln's election, in November 1860, as President of the United States.
Lincoln's election caused eleven Southern states to secede from the Union. Anti-Union sentiment was very strong in Mrs. Lincoln's home state of Kentucky, one of the four slave states that did not secede. Many upper-class Kentuckians, members of the social stratum into which Mrs. Lincoln had been born, supported the Southern cause. Mary Lincoln was remembered as a hero for her bravery to help the prisoners and other countries.
Mary Lincoln was well educated and interested in public affairs, and shared her husband's fierce ambition. However, her Southern heritage created obstacles for her that became apparent almost immediately after she took on her new duties as First Lady in March 1861. Some facets of Mrs. Lincoln's character did not help her in facing these challenges. She was temperamentally high-strung and touchy, and sometimes acted irrationally. (She may have suffered from bipolar disorder.) She was almost instantly unpopular upon her arrival in the capital.
Mr. Lincoln's predecessor, James Buchanan, who had remained unmarried throughout his life, had been unable to fully use the White House for public gatherings under the social rules of the time. As a result, by 1861 the residence was badly worn and shabby. Mary Todd Lincoln initiated repairs to the White House, but the appropriations of public money required came at the same time as public spending was increasing substantially to fight the American Civil War and her actions resulted in severe criticism. Newspapers controlled by the Democratic Party subjected her and the Lincoln administration to scathing criticism, which was fueled by Mrs. Lincoln's lavish shopping expeditions to New York City and other retail centers.
As the Civil War continued, persistent rumors began to circulate against Mary Todd Lincoln's personal loyalty and integrity. One rumor claimed that Mrs. Lincoln was a Confederate sympathizer, and even a Confederate spy (many of her relatives served in the Confederate forces, and two of her stepbrothers and a brother-in-law died fighting for the South). In reality, Mary Todd was a fervent and tireless supporter of the Union cause. Her visits with Union soldiers in the numerous hospitals in and around Washington went largely unnoticed by her enemies and contemporaries.
Mr. Lincoln staunchly supported his wife against the vicious attacks disseminated by their enemies. One uncorroborated legend states that President Lincoln, upon hearing the rumors, personally vouched for her loyalty to the United States in a surprise appearance before the Committee on the Conduct of the War. Another story is that Mrs. Lincoln was the first First Lady to visit a combat zone when she was present with her husband at the Siege of Fort Stevens on July 11, 1864.
During the Civil War, loyal Americans of Southern heritage, such as Mary Todd Lincoln, faced the dilemma of how to reconcile their cradle education in white supremacy with the new role of African-Americans as a key element of Union strength. Mrs. Lincoln responded to this challenge by accepting the ex-slave dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckly, as her closest White House friend and confidante. Keckly's reminiscences would become an essential element for understanding and interpreting the psychological challenges faced by Mrs Lincoln in the White House.
Mrs. Lincoln's personal trials continued and worsened in February 1862 with the death of their 11-year-old son Willie. When the boy died of typhoid fever within the walls of the White House, the psychologically battered First Lady almost gave way entirely to her grief. She paid mediums and spiritualists to try to contact the dead boy, only to lose another small fortune the Lincolns could not afford.
Some Lincoln aides and Cabinet members privately considered Mrs. Lincoln to be a liability to the administration. She was ruthlessly criticized, especially behind her back, as a free-spending, overemotional First Lady who tried to climb out of the constraints that were viewed as essential elements of the roles of women in public life. For example, John Hay, an aide to President Lincoln, privately referred to her as "the hellcat.
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 Todd Lincoln sat with her husband to watch the comic play Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre, President Lincoln was mortally wounded by an assassin. Mrs. Lincoln accompanied her husband across the street to the Petersen House, where the President died on the following day, April 15. Mary Todd Lincoln would never fully recover from the traumatic experience.
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, proved 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. Mrs. Lincoln was further isolated, and often railed against "Slick Lizzie" in her later years.
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 Todd Lincoln, the death of her son Thomas (Tad), in July 1871, led to an overpowering sense of grief and the gradual onset of depression. Mrs. Lincoln's sole surviving son, Robert T. Lincoln, a rising young Chicago lawyer, was alarmed by his mother's free spending of money in ways that did not give her any lasting happiness. Due to what he considered to be her increasingly eccentric behavior, Robert exercised his rights as Mrs. Lincoln's closest male relative and had the widow deprived of custody of her own person and affairs. Mary Todd Lincoln was misprescribed laudanum for sleep problems which caused her to suffer anxiety and hallucinations. Upon increase of these hallucinations, more laudanum and chloral hydrate was administered, which increased the problem and led to her eventual commitment to an asylum. In 1875, Mary Todd Lincoln was committed by an Illinois court to Bellevue Place, an insane asylum in Batavia, Illinois. There Mrs. Lincoln was not closely confined; she was free to walk about the building and its immediate grounds, and was released three months later. However, Mary Todd Lincoln never forgave her eldest son for what she regarded as his betrayal.
Mrs. Lincoln spent the next four years abroad taking up residence in Pau, France. 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 Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield along with her husband.
Of the Lincoln children, only Robert lived to marry and produce children.