Mary Lincoln, 1846 or 1847. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Just over two hundred years ago today, on December 13, 1818, Mary Ann Todd came into the world screaming. Or at least, we assume she came into this world screaming, as most babies do. It was a rainy Sunday in Lexington, Kentucky. Mary’s mother Eliza likely sent for the midwife. Together, the women would have laughed, cried, and worked through the labor in a female experience, a female world not yet dominated by male doctors. The midwife would have encouraged Eliza, and perhaps offered some mulled liquor, until the big moment of Mary’s arrival.[1]

When she married Abraham Lincoln, she dropped the Todd, and would sign her name Mary Lincoln for the rest of her life. Her life and legacy would be haunted by thousands of interpretations and misinterpretations. Mary the sane, Mary the insane, Mary the devoted wife, Mary the calculating manipulator. She shopped too much, cried too much, complained too much. After losing two sons, she turned to spiritualism, holding as many as eight seances in the White House. Then her third son passed, and later, her fourth would send her to an Illinois asylum. She later deemed it a “cruel persecution by a bad son” and to obtain her release, she secured the services of Myra Bradwell, one of the few female lawyers of the time.[2]

But to her core, she cared about family. A family she loved, a family she lost, a family that lay shattered around her. We can imagine the movie of her life, with scenes flickering by – Mary in 1842, courting a tall and talented backwoods lawyer in Springfield, Illinois. In 1860, the wife whose husband reportedly ran home yelling “Mary, Mary, we are elected!” after he learned that he had won the presidential election. In 1862, a mother, miserably consoling her eleven-year-old son Willie, as he lay dying of typhoid fever. And on April 14, 1865, that fateful night she held her husband’s hand as he laughed at a line in the theatre, unaware of the gun to his head.[3]

The entire article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.

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