Mary Todd Lincoln

Mary Todd Lincoln (1818–1882). Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Digital ID # cwpbh 03451

Few first ladies in the history of the United States have generated more interest and controversy than Mary Todd Lincoln (1818–1882). Born the fourth of sixteen children to Robert Todd of Lexington, Kentucky, Mary was well educated for a woman of her time. Moving to Springfield, Illinois, in 1839, she was courted by several rising political figures, including Stephen A. Douglas, before marrying Abraham Lincoln in 1842. Mary's energies were quickly engaged in maintaining a household that was expanded by the arrival of four sons; the second-born, Eddy [or Eddie], died of diphtheria in 1850. Mary Lincoln's tenure as first lady (March 1861–April 1865) was marked by a number of conflicts and tragedies. These included the hostile reception she received from much of Washington society, vilification in the press for her shopping sprees in Philadelphia and New York, and unfounded characterizations of her as a Confederate sympathizer. The death from typhoid fever of eleven-year-old Willie Lincoln in 1862 plunged Mary into a deep depression. The deaths of multiple family members in the Confederate Army caused her additional anguish, as did a number of health issues connected to migraine headaches. Mrs. Lincoln's travails continued following her husband's assassination in 1865. She was widely ridiculed for an 1867 public sale of her clothes purchased while first lady. Young Tad Lincoln died in 1871 of a respiratory infection he acquired returning from a European trip with Mary. In 1875, Robert Todd Lincoln, the only one of her four sons to survive to adulthood, had his mother briefly committed to a mental asylum. Mary Todd Lincoln died at the home of her sister in Springfield, Illinois, on July 16, 1882.

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