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Information from the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission
First Lady of our
Nation, Mother of four sons, wife of Abraham Lincoln
1818, Mary Todd Lincoln lived in Lexington, Kentucky, for twenty years.
Her father, Robert Smith Todd, became a wealthy merchant and Whig party
mother, Eliza Parker Todd, also descended from an affluent family, died
in 1825. Thus began a series of deaths that marred Mary’s life. Her
mother succumbed to puerperal sepsis (“the childbed fevers”) after the
birth of her seventh child in twelve years.
Robert Todd quickly replaced his first wife with a stepmother Mary
hated. Nine household slaves served the large Todd family in an elegant
brick home in Lexington.
Among the prized values of the Todds was a commitment to education for
daughters as well as sons. Mary benefited from this aspiration; an
excellent student, she learned the basic curriculum of reading, writing,
and arithmetic at John Ward’s local school. When she was fourteen, she
attended an all-girls boarding school on the outskirts of Lexington.
There, her studies expanded to include languages and the traditional
sewing and stitching. She continued to be a superior student, acclaimed
for her performances in plays and her proficiency in French.
1838, Mary Todd left the social life of Lexington to live in her
sister’s home in Springfield, Illinois. Such independence for young
women was unusual for the times. But Mary despised her stepmother.
beloved sister Elizabeth had set up a household in the rapidly growing
new capital. In her sister’s and brother-in-law’s home she met Abraham
Lincoln, an aspiring Whig politician and state legislator. Other men,
mostly politicians like Senator Stephen Douglas, courted the attractive
Mary Todd. Dances, sleigh-rides, and railroad expeditions brought the
young people of the new capital together.
was the gangly Lincoln whom she favored and married in 1842.
Then followed Mary Lincoln’s domestic years—the birth of her four sons
(and the death of her beloved Eddie in 1850 from tuberculosis), the
management of her home, and her support of her husband’s emerging
was unusually ambitious for what she called “our Lincoln party.” An
excellent hostess, she invited important politicians to the Lincoln
When Lincoln was elected president in 1860, he hurried home, calling out
“Mary, Mary, we are elected.”
Mary Lincoln’s four years in the White House began with the Confederate
attack on Fort Sumter and ended with her husband’s death.
critical moment in the nation’s history she expanded American
understanding of a First Lady’s role. She oversaw expensive, much-needed
and tasteful improvements to the White House. She organized receptions
that made the White House a center of social and political importance.
Elegantly dressed, she presided over receptions and soirees.
also visited wounded soldiers in Washington hospitals and raised money
for the former slaves who flocked into the city during the Civil War.
contributions to our national history emerged from her understanding of
the significance of the White House as a symbol of the power of the
also recognized the extent to which social gatherings in the Red and
Gold Rooms provided opportunities for foreign diplomats, congressmen,
military leaders and common soldiers to meet the president.
amid such triumphs Mary Lincoln lost her son Willie to typhoid fever in
1862. Then her husband died from an assassin’s bullet in April 1865.
devastated Mary Lincoln now began her years of wandering. Leaving
Washington for Chicago, she was accompanied by her eldest son,
twenty-three year old Robert, and her youngest son, twelve year-old Tad.
But she was unable to afford a home in Chicago.
took Tad to Germany where he attended school in Frankfurt. She traveled
to European spas. She sought out spiritualists, believing that mediums
could put her in touch with her dead sons and husband.
Then in 1871 Tad died of pleurisy in a Chicago hotel.
1875 her son Robert Lincoln directed legal efforts to have her committed
to a private mental institution outside of Chicago. Never insane, she
remained in the asylum only four months.
Mary Lincoln was convinced that her son would try to send her back to an
she fled to Pau, a city near the Pyrenees in southern France. She lived
there alone for four years.
Eventually, her declining health forced her to return to the United
States, where she lived quietly with her sister Elizabeth Edwards in
Springfield until she died on July 16th 1882 from a stroke.
She was sixty-three years-old.
AND MOTHER OF FOUR BOYS
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