America’s First Ladies – Mary Anne Todd Lincoln

Connie Limon asked:

Mary Anne Todd Lincoln was born in Lexington, Kentucky on December 13, 1818 to Robert Smith Todd and Eliza Ann Parker. Her father was a merchant, lawyer, officer in the War of 1812 and a member of Kentucky legislature also born and died in Lexington, Kentucky. Her mother married Robert Todd in 1812 and died in 1825 in Lexington, Kentucky.

Mary Anne Todd Lincoln was of Irish, Scottish, English ancestry and was the fourth of seven children, three brothers, and three sisters.

Mary stood 5 foot, two inches tall, with reddish-brown hair and blue eyes. She was of Presbyterian faith, an adherent of spiritualism and believed the living could be in contact with the dead.


She studied grammar, geography, arithmetic, poetry, and literature at Shelby Female Academy, 1826-1832. Shelby Female Academy was later known as Dr. Ward’s Academy. She learned to speak and write French, penmanship, dancing, singing at Madame Mentelle’s Boarding School, 1832-1837. She studied advances studies, most likely in cultural subjects, (details of course study is unknown) at Dr. Ward’s Academy, 1837-1839.

Before her marriage:

She was the daughter of a wealthy and prosperous family and did not have any need for employment. Her father had a close friendship to Kentucky political leader Henry Clay of the Whig Party. Mary developed a voracious interest in politics and political issues. She studied a lot and very deeply a variety of subjects including the works of Victor Hugo, Shakespeare, and astronomy. Legend tells us her maternal grandmother aided slaves seeking freedom through the “Underground Railroad” and Mary Todd’s later support of abolition is believed to have originated with her grandmother’s influence.

Mary Todd married Abraham Lincoln at the age of 23 in 1842 on November 4. Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer from 1809-1865. Their marriage ceremony took place in the front parlor of the home of Mary Todd’s sister, Elizabeth and her husband Ninian Edwards in Springfield, Illinois. For the first two years of their marriage, they lived at the Globe Tavern in Springfield. They purchased their first and only home at Eight and Jackson Streets in Springfield, Illinois in 1844.

Mary Todd Lincoln bore four sons:

o Robert Todd Lincoln (1843-1926)

o Edward Baker Lincoln (1846-1850)

o William “Willie” Wallace Lincoln (1850-1862)

o Thomas “Tad” Lincoln (1853-1871)

After her marriage, Mary Lincoln spent her years confined to either Illinois or Kentucky, except for a two-year period when Abraham Lincoln served as a U.S. Congressman in Washington. She then made the unusual move to relocate there for a time, living with him and their first child in a boardinghouse. Mary focused primarily upon raising her family and often did cooking and cleaning of their home. In spite of this, she also often took an active role in promoting Abraham Lincoln’s political career. Mary Lincoln handwrote Abraham Lincoln’s solicitation letters to Whig leaders. She advised against his acceptance of the governorship of the faraway Oregon territory since it would remove him from a potential national position. She was at sessions of the state legislature at the capital where she filled a notebook with the names of partisan allegiance of each member and was also in attendance at the last of the famous debates. She had a special interest of the transition of the Whig Party into the new Republican one and wrote to influential friends in Kentucky regarding Lincoln’s views on slavery.

A legend tells us that as a young woman Mary Todd had announced to friends that the man she married would someday become President of the United States. She was eager to assume a prominent public role in her husband’s presidency. She was always ready to speak to reporters and gave speeches of political issues during the transition period between election and inauguration days.

Mary Todd Lincoln became the First Lady of the United States March 4, 1861. She was 42 years old. It has been difficult to assess Mary’s mental and physical problems suffered during her time as First Lady. It is felt she manifested behavior suggesting severe depression, anxiety and paranoia, migraine headaches. She also had symptoms of possibly diabetes. It is most likely that all of her ills were made worse by a series of tragic circumstances during her White House tenure which were:

o The trauma of Civil War that included the allegiance of much of her family to the Confederacy and their death or injury in battle

o An accident in 1863 which threw her from a carriage and knocked her unconscious

o Accusations by northerners that she was sympathetic to the Confederacy and labeling her as a “traitor” by southerners

o The sudden death of her son Willie in 1862

o The worst incident of all, the assassination of her husband as she sat beside him in the Ford’s Theater.

Mary Lincoln was the first presidential wife to be called “First Lady” in the press. This was documented in both the London Times and Sacramento Union newspapers.

Mary Lincoln had a reputation for expensive White House redecoration and extravagant clothing purchases. She felt this necessary to create an image of the stability that would command respect for the President and the Union. The public and the press reacted much differently with ridicule and anger. The public and press thought Mrs. Lincoln conveyed an image of a selfish and indulgent woman inconsiderate of the suffering that most of the nation’s families were enduring as a result of the war her husband was managing. She also pressed Republican appointees to pay her debts with the feeling that they owed their positions to her husband.

The war overshadowed all of Mary Lincoln’s extra curricular activities. She worked as a volunteer nurse in the Union hospitals, offered intelligence she had learned as well as her own advice to the President on military personnel, toured Union Army camps and reviewed troops with her husband. She was successful in using entertaining as a means of raising Union morale. There were two public causes in which Mary Lincoln became involved that proved her genuine support of the Union Army and the freedom of slaves, they were:

o The Sanitary Commission fairs that raised private donations to supplement the federal funds for soldier supplies such as blankets and Contraband Relief Association that also raised private donations for housing, employment, clothing and medical care of recently freed slaves, an organization she became involved in as a result of her friendship with her dressmaker, former slave Elizabeth Keckley.

Mary Todd Lincoln was deeply traumatized by her husband’s murder. She moved out of the White House May 23, 1865 and relocated to Chicago where she began efforts to settle her husband’s estate. The sudden death of her son in 1871 left her spirit broken. Her son Robert considered her behavior to be signs of mental instability and successfully had her tried for insanity.

In 1875, Mary Todd Lincoln was committed to the Bellevue Insane Asylum in Vatavia, Illinois. Later that day she twice attempted ******* by taking what she thought was laudanum and camphor, which a suspicious druggist had replaced with a sugar substance.

Myra Bradwell, one of the nation’s first women lawyers, believed Mrs. Lincoln was not insane and was being held against her will. She filed an appeal for Mrs. Lincoln and four months later the former First Lady was released to the care of her sister. A second trial declared her sane. Mary Todd Lincoln died at the home of her sister, Elizabeth Edwards in Springfield, Illinois on July 16, 1882, and was buried in the Lincoln Tomb, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois

Source: National First Ladies’ Library

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One Response to “America’s First Ladies – Mary Anne Todd Lincoln”

  1. Jessy says:

    Sad but interesting

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