Ruth Randall, wife of the great Lincoln scholar James G. Randall, became interested in Mary Todd Lincoln as the result of assisting her husband with his research. Her Mary Lincoln: Biography of a Marriage (1953), a full-length adult biography, served to dispel many of the traditional misconceptions about this tragic figure. Randall, in her diligent research, used numerous primary source materials, including little-known manuscripts and letters from private collections, to produce what is considered by Lincoln scholars the best documented biography of Mary Todd Lincoln ever written. I Mary uses the same material to tell the story for young people and thus may be considered an authentic and accurate biography. Its content follows closely that of the adult biography, but occasionally the language tends to be somewhat patronizing, especially for the upper segment of the intended age range.
The portrait limned of Mary Lincoln is a well-rounded, very human one. She is shown to be “by nature joyous with life,” adoring pretty clothes, loving a good time, and, contrary to the conventions of her generation, having intellectual and political interests. This latter characteristic has been confirmed by later research, and she has been shown to be a woman who was somewhat out of tune with, or ahead of, her time. She is seen as very determined when she chooses to pursue marriage to Abraham Lincoln despite her family’s strong objections. After her...
(The entire section is 601 words.)
I Mary, based on a landmark adult biography, is free of any invented dialogue or incidents. The accurate portrayal of the subject has been substantiated by later research. In fact, capable young adult readers who become intrigued by this tragic love story will find Jean H. Baker’s 1987 Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography, which incorporates more recent research, includes a multitude of interesting details, and provides a strong feminist perspective, to be an elegant further step in their studies. Those interested in Lincoln’s life after her husband’s assassination will be fascinated with The Insanity File: The Case of Mary Todd Lincoln by Mark E. Neely, Jr., and R. Gerald McMurtry (1986).
One valuable function that biography may provide is to serve as a source of in-spiration to young people. Randall’s biography does not serve this particular function well because it shows Mary Todd Lincoln unable to cope satisfactorily with the tragic events that beset her life. I Mary will be of great interest, however, for the beautiful and genuine love story it tells. It is significant as well for its perspectives on Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and the historical period in general, and may stimulate further interest in knowing more about mental illness. It is important, too, because it clarifies facts that were misconstrued for many years. Beyond all of this, however, it simply tells a good story—that of the life of an interesting, unique, and very human woman.