Mary Todd Lincoln
Biography: As a girlhood companion remembered her, Mary Todd was
vivacious and impulsive, with an interesting personality--but "she now and then could
not restrain a witty, sarcastic speech that cut deeper than she
intended...." A young lawyer summed her up in 1840: "the very creature
of excitement." All of these attributes marked her life, bringing her
both happiness and tragedy.
Daughter of Eliza Parker and Robert Smith Todd, pioneer settlers of
Kentucky, Mary lost her mother before the age of seven. Her father
remarried; and Mary remembered her childhood as "desolate" although she
belonged to the aristocracy of Lexington, with high-spirited social life
and a sound private education.
Just 5 feet 2 inches at maturity, Mary had clear blue eyes, long lashes,
light-brown hair with glints of bronze, and a lovely complexion. She
danced gracefully, she loved finery, and her crisp intelligence polished
the wiles of a Southern coquette.
Nearly 21, she went to Springfield, Illinois, to live with her sister
Mrs. Ninian Edwards. Here she met Abraham Lincoln--in his own words, "a
poor nobody then." Three years later, after a stormy courtship and
broken engagement, they were married. Though opposites in background and
temperament, they were united by an enduring love--by Mary's confidence
in her husband's ability and his gentle consideration of her excitable ways.
Their years in Springfield brought hard work, a family of boys, and
reduced circumstances to the pleasure-loving girl who had never felt
responsibility before. Lincoln's single term in Congress, for 1847-1849,
gave Mary and the boys a winter in Washington, but scant opportunity for
social life. Finally her unwavering faith in her husband won ample
justification with his election as President in 1860.
Though her position fulfilled her high social ambitions, Mrs. Lincoln's
years in the White House mingled misery with triumph. An orgy of
spending stirred resentful comment. While the Civil War dragged on,
Southerners scorned her as a traitor to her birth, and citizens loyal to
the Union suspected her of treason. When she entertained, critics
accused her of unpatriotic extravagance. When, utterly distraught, she
curtailed her entertaining after her son Willie's death in 1862, they
accused her of shirking her social duties.
Yet Lincoln, watching her put her guests at ease during a White House
reception, could say happily: "My wife is as handsome as when she was a
girl, and I...fell in love with her; and what is more, I have never
Her husband's assassination in 1865 shattered Mary Todd Lincoln. The
next 17 years held nothing but sorrow. With her son "Tad" she traveled
abroad in search of health, tortured by distorted ideas of her financial
situation. After Tad died in 1871, she slipped into a world of illusion
where poverty and murder pursued her.
A misunderstood and tragic figure, she passed away in 1882 at her
sister's home in Springfield--the same house from which she had walked as
the bride of Abraham Lincoln, 40 years before.