Learning Lincoln On-line

Topic Sets to Study Abraham Lincoln His Life and Before the Civil War

Topic One-hundred-five  Mary Todd Lincoln Information Site

Click Here for the Mary Todd Lincoln Household Home Page

Mary Todd Lincoln Timeline History

Mary Todd Lincoln Biographical Timeline of Significant Events

Information from the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission website

First Lady of our Nation, Mother of four sons, wife of Abraham Lincoln

        Born in 1818, Mary Todd Lincoln lived in Lexington, Kentucky, for twenty years. Her father, Robert Smith Todd, became a wealthy merchant and Whig party leader.

        Her 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.

        In 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.

        Her 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.

        It 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 political career.

        She was unusually ambitious for what she called “our Lincoln party.” An excellent hostess, she invited important politicians to the Lincoln home.

        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.

        a 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.

        She also visited wounded soldiers in Washington hospitals and raised money for the former slaves who flocked into the city during the Civil War.

        Her contributions to our national history emerged from her understanding of the significance of the White House as a symbol of the power of the Union.

        She 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.

        But 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.  

        A 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.

        She 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.

        In 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.

        But Mary Lincoln was convinced that her son would try to send her back to an institution.

        So 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.

GO TO MARY TODD LINCOLN, WIFE

AND MOTHER OF FOUR BOYS

 

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