Mary Todd Lincoln

Statesman

First Lady of the United States of America Mary Todd Lincoln was born into a prominent Lexington, Kentucky family in 1818. Her childhood was marked by the death of her mother, Eliza Todd, when Mary was only six years old. Her father remarried within a year. She first attended a preparatory school, and later Madame Mantelle's boarding school which she later claimed was her true early home. At the age of nineteen, she went on to study literature and history for two more years under Dr. Ward, who ran the preparatory school she had attended. Following that, she moved to Springfield, Illinois at the urging of two older sisters who lived there.

Mary's sister, Elizabeth, was married to Ninian Wirt Edwards, a state legislator. Many statesmen and young legislators visited them there, including Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. Mary quickly became popular in Springfield society, being attractive and possessing a witty and lively personality. Several men in Springfield courted her, including Douglas, but it was Abraham Lincoln that she fell in love with. Ninian and Elizabeth did not approve of Lincoln, thinking that he lacked a suitable background and education while lacking the means to support Mary in the manner in which she was accustomed. Lincoln knew their opinion of himself and he also doubted whether he could provide for Mary. Nonetheless, they became engaged in 1840. The engagement was short, however, as they broke it off on New Year's Day 1841. They remained apart for over a year until friends decided they should be together, and arranged for them to meet again at a party. This time the engagement ended In marriage on November 4, 1842.

The Lincolns remained in Springfield and Abraham continued to build up his law practice, often taking him out of town for great lengths of time while he rode the circuit. Mary was frustrated and unhappy with being left alone and also with trying to live on Lincolns rather meager income. She began to show signs of emotional instability, while Lincoln suffered through bouts of depression. Despite these strains on the relationship, the Lincolns remained devoted to each other. In time, their financial situation improved as Lincoln became more and more well known throughout the state. His reputation brought important and respected clients, and he established his own firm after working for others for so many years. In 1847, he was elected to the House of Representatives and his political career began.

Mary stayed in Washington DC for only a few months, preferring to live in Springfield. At this time the Lincolns had two sons, Robert Todd and Edward. Unfortunately Eddie died on February 1, 1850 of diphtheria. The Lincolns were heartbroken over the loss, but more sons soon followed. William Wallace was born in December 1850 and Thomas, called Tad, three years later. Following Tad's birth Mary suffered terrible headaches and sometimes uncontrollable fits of anger. During this time, Lincoln was gaining national prominence as a politician, and decided to run for the presidency of the United States.

Upon his election in 1860, Mary enthusiastically entertained the visitors that poured into their Springfield home. Friends noted that the election did not seem to change the Lincolns, but it was not long before Mary found her critics. As the inauguration neared, Mary thought that the President's wife should be well dressed and she was eager to show that she was a woman of taste. She traveled to New York in January to purchase her new wardrobe, but was not prepared for the attention that she would receive. Faced with unlimited credit in a particularly extravagant and lavish period in ladies fashion, Mary indulged herself. Heady with her new position, Mary spoke openly about political matters and publicly criticized some of Lincoln's political appointees. She became the focus of New York gossip, and the telegraph hastened the spread of such talk.

Mary Lincoln was unaware of the gossip surrounding her, and did not realize the extent of the rumors. Many in Washington society assumed that Mary, like her husband, lacked a proper" background. When she learned of this Mary Lincoln was outraged and she strove in her position as First Lady to prove them wrong  often to the delight of her detractors. 

See also our article on Mary Todd Lincoln here.

Birth Location: 
Lexington, Kentucky
Birth Date: 
12/13/1818
Death Location: 
Springfield, Illinois
Death Date: 
7/16/1882