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A Little More Information on Mary Todd Lincoln
There have been many biographies done on President Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, with several different ideas and theories about her actions and personality. They seem to start at the beginning and work their way to the bitter end where she is an invalid living with her sister, Elizabeth. This First lady has been portrayed as a diabetic, an eccentric, a wasteful spender of monies during the civil war, a pilferer of monies she felt was owed to her after her husband’s assassination and even as a mentally ill person who was a danger to herself and to others.
No one seems to try to see the First lady herself. It is all just a list of facts as they occurred. While that is a good way to list accomplishments sometimes it is a disservice to the person when the facts are not as clear cut or brightly shining as someone else’s accomplishments. I feel Mrs. Lincoln deserves a bit of background study, though that is all it is. I could be way off base with this but she is one of my favourite First Ladies and feels she needs another story told.
How do I feel?
The affinity I feel with Mrs. Lincoln is heartfelt. Many of her personal difficulties have happened not only to me but also to all of us! Although most of us have not experienced our husband being assassinated, a lot of us have experienced death, gossip, poor decisions, loved ones who have turned their backs on us and money problems.
Mary Todd Lincoln was the fourth child in a large family. Her mother died when Mary was seven and her father remarried. It was said Mary and her stepmother did not get along well and that is given as the reason Mary left for boarding school at an early age.
When Mary finished school, she could speak French fluently and had developed the social graces that put her in the middle of the social elite in Springfield, Kentucky. She resided with her sister, Elizabeth, who had married the former governor of Kentucky. It was during this time that Mary met Stephen Douglas as well as Abraham Lincoln.
Who knows what could have happened if she had chosen Mr. Douglas instead of Mr. Lincoln? In fact, the engagement to Mr. Lincoln was actually called off at one point and that by Mr. Lincoln Himself! That is food for fodder right there but there is no more information to be found on that subject.
What is Known?
What is known is that Mary Lincoln was very smart and politically minded and assisted Mr. Lincoln with his political views. She was, probably as all wives, a sounding board for his ideas and a big influence on his abilities to function. However, although the Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 did not win Mr. Lincoln a seat in the senate it guaranteed him the presidential election of 1860! By debating with Mr. Douglas about slavery, it drove a wedge between the Democratic/Republican parties. Despite the fact that Mr. Lincoln would have even allowed slavery if it meant avoiding war it was not to be. The times as First Lady for Mrs. Lincoln would be hard indeed.
What was The White House like for her?
Even without the threat and advent of the Civil war, she may have had a difficult time at any rate, for she was not considered gentile enough for Washington Society. In 1860 the social elite of the District of Columbia was made up of many Eastern but even more Southern charms.They considered Mrs. Lincoln to be a “Westerner” who was crass and without manners befitting that of a First Lady.
She endured many written and whispered snide remarks and jabs at her inabilities to hold court as it were in the White House. One of the worst is one reminiscent of more than one first lady, that of spending money to keep the white house looking its best.
Mrs. Lincoln ordered a new set of china for the White House during the midst of the civil war and this was considered a huge scandal and was written up in the newspapers as “Mrs. Lincoln’s Crockery”. One cannot help but compare that to the southerners who were burying their china and silver in fields to protect it from northern looters and soldiers on their way to the coast! I cannot find it in my heart to speak badly of Mrs. Lincoln for wanting the White House to look its best even in times of great trial. After all, all of us were trying to accomlish the very same thing n our own way! Perhaps it is a female attribute.
The worst that she endured must have been the death of her son, Willie in 1862, though it does not mention the cause of death, and the deaths of her half brothers who fought on the confederate side. She may have disagreed with their sentiments but she would have mourned their loss as a sister and had to keep that all pent up inside her during the time as First Lady. That would have been a hard thing to bear. To hold her head high and keep on with her duties to husband and country knowing she was losing members on both sides of her family continually.
After the assassination
After the assassination of the president, Mrs. Lincoln’s depression and outward evidence of her mental health became an embarrassment to her oldest son, Robert and he had her committed to Bellevue for several months. The idea of the First Lady subjected to the horrors of Bellevue during the late 1880’s is chilling.
However, Mrs. Lincoln managed to secure her own release with the assist of friends and she returned to live with her sister Elizabeth. Mrs. Lincoln fell from a stepladder, which partially paralyzed her, and she spent the remainder of her days as an invalid in her sister’s home where she died on July 16, 1882 at the age of 63.
She endured many hardships and wounding of heart and was not treated as well as she should have been for one of our greatest presidential wives. It is with a heavy heart that we as a nation have to bear the horrors of not only fighting and killing ourselves but to treat a misunderstood First lady who deserved better in such a fashion.