Lincoln, Mary

Born: 1818-12-13 Lexington, Kentucky

Died: 1882-07-16 Springfield, Illinois

Alternate name: Todd

Mary Ann Todd was the fourth child of Eliza and Robert S. Todd, a prominent businessman and Whig politician. Both of her parents were from long-established, influential Kentucky families. Mary was just six years old when her mother died, and she was never close to her new stepmother Betsey. A willing and capable student, Mary finished twelve years of schooling at Ward's Academy and at Mentelle's Academy both in Lexington, Kentucky. She studied grammar, arithmetic, and literature, was fluent in French, and learned the social graces expected of her family's standing in southern society. Her upbringing and education earned her the attention of many suitors when she moved to Springfield, Illinois, in 1839, to live with Elizabeth and Ninian Edwards, her sister and brother-in-law. After a stormy courtship, she married Abraham Lincoln on November 4, 1842. Abraham often called his wife "Molly." From the beginning of her marriage, Mary proved herself an intellectual equal to her husband and engaged in the politics of the day. She penned political editorials, wrote patronage letters, and supported her husband's political career. While Lincoln traveled across Illinois as a circuit-riding attorney, Mary raised the couple's four sons—Robert, Eddy, Willie and Tad—in Springfield, Illinois, where she attended a Presbyterian Church.

After Abraham Lincoln's election to the presidency, Mary Lincoln maintained her interest in politics, even offering advice about patronage appointments. As the Civil War ravaged the country, Mary Lincoln attended to wounded and sick soldiers, remodeled the public rooms of the White House, entertained diplomats and Washington's political elite, and established an informal salon to discuss the politics of the day. She was a controversial first lady, as many of her contemporaries criticized her for extravagant spending and for her family connections to the Confederacy. Four of her brothers—George R. C. Todd, Alexander Todd, David Todd, and Samuel Todd—served in the Confederate Army, Alexander dying at Baton Rouge and Samuel at Shiloh. Her half-sister Emilie Helm lived at the White House after her husband, a Confederate general, died at Chickamauga in 1863. The war took its toll on Mary Lincoln, but it was the death of Willie Lincoln, most likely of typhoid fever, in February 1862 that affected her most acutely. She fell into a deep depression and remained in formal mourning for a year after his passing. On the evening of April 14, 1865, just five days after the surrender of Robert E. Lee's army at Appomattox Court House, Mary attended a play at Ford's Theatre, where John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln. Mary was so overcome with grief, her eldest son Robert removed her from Lincoln's bedside at the boarding house across the street, where he died the next morning. After many troubled years as a widow, Mary died in Springfield, Illinois, at the age of sixty-three.

Jean H. Baker, Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1987), 3-98, 130-243, 351-69; Jean H. Baker, "Lincoln, Mary Todd," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 13:680-81; Ruth Randall, Mary Lincoln: Biography of a Marriage (Boston: Little, Brown, 1953), 3-10, 20-35, 139-45, 211-58, 269-302, 377-94.