Mary Todd Lincoln

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Growing up as a Todd in Lexington, Kentucky, the town her grandfathers had founded, Mary, although part of the town’s elite, still felt insecure. A series of abandonments, including the death of her mother, shaped her early life; she would later see these losses as punishment for her successes. Lost in the large family that would number fourteen surviving children, including the offspring from her father’s second marriage, Mary gained recognition from her busy father with her achievements in school and her knowledge of politics, both areas considered off-limits to nineteenth century women. At the age of twenty, Mary, escaping her stepmother, moved in with her married sister in Springfield, Illinois.

There she met Abraham Lincoln, an aspiring lawyer, in whom she recognized potential greatness. After a somewhat stormy courtship, made difficult because of her flirtations, they married. Finding her new duties as a wife, mother, and housekeeper satisfying, she devoted herself to her family. She still, however, maintained her interest in politics and would often counsel her husband. Recognizing her contribution to his presidential campaign, Lincoln, on learning of his victory, shouted, “Mary, Mary, we are elected.”

During the White House years, Mary visited hospitals, restored the White House and maintained a salon, activities which resulted in charges of extravagance and questions about her faithfulness to Lincoln. The war’s conclusion brought a happiness which ended abruptly with the assassination of her husband. (Previously two of her four sons had died.) Mary went into mourning, sought consolation in spiritualism, and wore black for the remainder of her life.

In her last years, she lost a third child and was committed to a mental asylum by her remaining son, who believed that a troublesome woman must be troubled mentally. Upon her release, she exiled herself to Europe, but, with her health failing, she returned to Springfield. On her death the city that had ridiculed her honored her.

This well-researched biography, written in lucid prose, not only reinstates Mary Todd Lincoln to her rightful position but also presents a detailed portrait of nineteenth century America.