Mary Todd Lincoln Biography

Biography of Mary Todd Lincoln. Was she really crazy? Find out about the woman behind the greatest President of them all.

There has never been a couple where the husband has been so glorified while the wife has been so vilified as Mr. and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln. While Old Abe was solidifying his position as the greatest of all Chief Executives to occupy the White House, his wife was creating a reputation as a loose cannon. After her husband was shot to death in front of her, the cannon all but detonated. Such is the legacy of Mary Todd Lincoln.

Mary Ann Todd was born on December 13, 1818 in Lexington, Kentucky. Her parents were members of the Lexington upper class. Mary was to be one of sixteen children. In 1825 Mary's mother died. A year later her father Robert remarried. At the age of seven Mary's education began at the Shelby Female Academy at Lexington. Later she attended Madame Mentelle's School for Girls where she would board during the week and return home on weekends. Mary was an excellent student and soon became fluent in French as well as a skilled conversationalist.

In 1832 Mary's sister Elizabeth married a future Governor of Illinois and moved to Springfield. In 1839 Mary went to live with her sister in Illinois. Her life was never to be the same. Mary soon became a feature of the Springfield social circle and before long she had been introduced to a rising lawyer and politician by the name of Abraham Lincoln. At an evening ball Lincoln approached Mary and said, "Miss Todd, I want to dance with you in the worst way." A year later the two were engaged. After several months, however, the engagement was broken off, apparently at Lincoln's behest. But Mary was not prepared to let her man go. Her tears broke down Lincoln's resolve and a date was set for the wedding. Lincoln, however, got cold feet and left his bride standing at the altar. A friend brought the two together again. The marriage was finally entered into on November 4, 1842, although it would appear that Lincoln was none too enthusiastic about the whole affair. When a friend, noting his formal dress, asked him where he was going he said, "To hell, I reckon."

On August 1, 1843, the Lincoln's 1st child, Robert was born. For the next 18 months the family lived in rented accommodation, until they purchased their first home in Springfield for $1500. It would be the only home they ever owned. On March 10, 1846 their second child, Edward was born. Mary proved herself to be a loving and doting mother. She became consumed in her young family.

In 1847, Lincoln was elected to the House of Representatives. His family moved to Washington, D.C. where they lived in a Boarding House at the present day site of the Library of Congress. While her husband was busy with political affairs, Mary and her boys would travel around New York State. They visited Niagara Falls and travelled across the Great Lakes.

A tragic blow struck the Lincoln's when their son Eddie died on December 1, 1850 of pulmonary tuberculosis. His mother, pregnant with her third child, entered into a long period of inconsolable mourning. Just 20 days later William Wallace Lincoln was born. On April 3, 1853 the Lincoln's last child Thomas (Tad) was born.



As her husband's political career continued to rise throughout the 1850's, Mary become more consumed with the business of raising her family. Yet, during the famous Lincoln - Douglas debates of 1858 she actively campaigned for her husband around Springfield. In the elections of 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States. A few months later the family moved into the White House where Mary set about refurbishing the place to her rather expensive tastes. She had soon overspent on the amount that Congress had allocated to her.

Eleven year old Willie Lincoln died on February 20, 1862, apparently of typhoid fever. Mary Lincoln would never fully recover from this blow. She put an end to all social outings. Shortly thereafter her half brother was killed while fighting for the Confederacy. Mary side-stepped her grief by visiting wounded soldiers, showering them with gifts of fruit and other presents.

On July 2, 1863 Mary suffered a heavy blow to the head when she was thrown from a carriage. Within a short time three more close family members were killed in the War. From this point on Mary began to demonstrate increasing signs of instability. Her lavish spending was becoming an increasing problem. She was also attending séances with disturbing regularity. During her time as first lady eight séances were held at the White House.

When her husband was shot on April 14, 1865 Mary became hysterical with grief. She entered into a long period of inconsolable grief. In 1866 the Congressional Committee on House Appropriations began an investigation as to whether Mary had taken White House Property like table linen and china. No wrong doing was found. However, Mary became irrationally obsessed with her drop in living standards now she was no longer first lady. She feared poverty would overcome her. She bought a home in Chicago which she lived in for a year before renting it out. In 1868 she went to Europe with her son Tad. For the next three years she lived in Frankfurt, Germany. On July 14, 1870 Congress apportioned to Mary a lifetime pension of $3000. A year later she returned to the United States.

On July 15, 1871 Mary was once more struck with tragedy when her beloved Tad died of complications resulting from fluid on the lungs. Mary's behaviour became increasingly strange. She suffered long periods of insomnia and feared being alone. She would often pay maids to keep her company during the night. She would also hear voices in public. She became an increasing embarrassment to her only surviving son, Robert. In May of 1875, he instigated a trial against his mother on the charge of Insanity. After 10 minutes of deliberation a jury found that Mary Todd Lincoln was insane and committed her to a period of confinement in a mental asylum. Mary spent four months in the Asylum at Batavia, Illinois.

After her release, Mary, disgusted at her treatment at American hands, traveled once again to Europe. For much of the remainder of her life she lived in Pau, France. Then in 1880, with her health declining rapidly, she returned to Springfield, Illinois where she lived in the house of her sister Elizabeth. The final months of her life were spent in a small room with the curtains drawn. Then, the day of the anniversary of her beloved Tad's death, she collapsed after suffering an apparent stroke. She died the next day. She was 63 years of age.

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