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  A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF MARY TODD LINCOLN

1818 - 1882

1818

On December 13 Mary Ann Todd was born in Lexington, Kentucky. She was often called Molly. Her parents, Eliza and Robert Smith Todd, were members of a socially and economically prominent Kentucky family. Robert Smith Todd had 16 children. There were seven with his first wife, Eliza Parker, and nine with his second wife, Elizabeth Humphreys.

1825

Mary's mother, Eliza, passed away on July 5.

1826

On November 1 Robert Todd married Betsy Humphreys. Mary entered Shelby Female Academy (John Ward's) located in Lexington. During nine of the next ten years, Mary attended school, first at Shelby and later at Madame Mentelle's. There she lived at school during the week and at home on weekends. The curriculum stressed the French language and the art of dancing. Mary excelled in school and was considered one of the very best students in the class.

1832

On February 29 Mary's older sister Elizabeth married Ninian Wirt Edwards, the son of the man who had been Illinois' territorial governor, United States Senator, and later Governor of Illinois. At the time Ninian was a student at Transylvania University in Lexington. Mary entered Madame Mentelle's boarding school for girls.

1833

Elizabeth and Ninian Edwards moved to Springfield, Illinois.

1836

Mary's sister, Frances, moved to Springfield.

1837

Mary spent three months in the summer visiting her sister Elizabeth in Springfield. Most likely she did not meet Abraham Lincoln during this visit. In the fall Mary returned to Ward's, not as a student but as an apprentice teacher helping Sarah Ward with the younger children.

1839

Mary went to Springfield, Illinois, to live with the Edwards' family. Mary was clever and intelligent and soon became prominent in society. She met a rising lawyer/politician named Abraham Lincoln (most likely at a ball).

1840

In the summer Mary traveled to Columbia, Missouri, visiting her uncle, Judge David Todd. She became a good friend of the judge's daughter, Ann. Mary became engaged to Abraham Lincoln.

1841

Mary and Abraham broke up on January 1st. Mary started dating others including a rising political star named Stephen A. Douglas. Rumors that she became engaged to Douglas were false, however.

1842

Mary and Abraham got back together again. On the rainy evening of November 4th Reverend Charles Dresser married them in the Edwards' home. Abraham placed a gold wedding ring on her finger. The words "Love is Eternal" were engraved inside the ring. She wore this wedding band until the day she died. At first, the Lincolns boarded at the Globe Tavern in Springfield for $4.00 a week.

1843

Robert Todd Lincoln, the couple's first child, was born August 1 at the Globe Tavern. He was named after Mary's father. After Robert's birth, the future president sometimes called Mary "Mother." At times he called her "Molly." On occasion, he endearingly referred to her as his "child-wife." She often called him "Mr. Lincoln." Sometimes it was just "Father." (Rarely did she call him Abraham and never just "Abe.") Late in the year the family moved and rented a three-room frame cottage at 214 South Fourth Street in Springfield.

1844

The Lincolns purchased (from Dr. Charles Dresser) a home in Springfield for $1500. It was located at the corner of Eighth and Jackson Streets. This would prove to be the only home the Lincolns ever purchased.


The Lincoln Home

1846

On March 10 the Lincolns' second child, Edward ("Eddie"), was born. The Lincolns had their first picture (a daguerreotype) taken by a photographer in Springfield.

1847

Mary and the children went to Washington, D.C. with Abraham who had been elected to the House of Representatives. In the fall, they stopped to visit the Todds in Lexington on the way (a three-week stay). In Washington the Lincolns lived at Mrs. Ann G. Sprigg's boardinghouse. (Nowadays the Library of Congress occupies this site.)

1848

During the summer Mary, Abraham, Robert, and Eddie traveled through New York State, visited Niagara Falls, and took a steamer from Buffalo across the Great Lakes. Mary did not return with Abraham to Washington for the 2nd session of the Thirtieth Congress. She and the boys stayed in Springfield.

1849

Abraham's term in the House ended, and his political career stalled. The Lincolns once again were together in Springfield. Mary's father, Robert Smith Todd, died July 16 apparently of cholera.

1850

In January, Mrs. Eliza Parker, Mary's grandmother, passed away. The Lincolns' son, Eddie, died on February 1. The Lincolns' third child, William Wallace ("Willie"), was born December 21.

1851

Thomas Lincoln, Abraham's father, a man Mary never met, passed away.

1853

The Lincolns' last child, Thomas ("Tad"), was born April 4.

1857

In September the Lincolns traveled to New York. They toured New York City and revisited Niagara Falls. Other points in the East were also visited.

1858

During the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Mary did her own "campaigning" in Springfield. To anyone who would listen she called Stephen Douglas "a very little giant" beside "my tall Kentuckian." In mid-October Mary traveled to Alton to hear the last of the debates (the only one of the seven she attended). Robert Lincoln also was present. At Alton Mary witnessed one of Abraham's best performances during the debates. It was a cloudy, threatening day and Douglas was hoarse which helped Abraham.

1860

Abraham was elected president in the fall election. On Election Day when the outcome was certain (which he heard at the Springfield telegraph office), Abraham immediately decided to go to his home. He said, "I guess there's a little lady at home who would like to hear this news." As he neared the Lincoln residence on 8th Street, he yelled out, "Mary, Mary, we are elected."

1861

The Lincoln family traveled to Washington, D.C. and took up residence in the White House. Mary refurbished the White House but overspent the money Congress had appropriated for this task.

1862

Willie died in the White House on February 20. Mary was never quite the same again. She ceased social activities until the next year. She never again entered the room in which Willie died. Mary's half brother, Sam Todd, was killed fighting for the Confederacy in the Battle of Shiloh. Oftentimes with Tad at her side, Mary visited wounded soldiers in hospitals. She took them fruit and flowers and stopped at each bed for conversation. She helped in fund raising efforts for the wounded. Helping comfort the soldiers helped comfort her broken heart over Willie's death.


Willie Lincoln

1863

On July 2, 1863, Mary was involved in a carriage accident in which she was thrown to the ground and hit her head hard on a rock. The wound became infected, and she required nursing care for three weeks. Mary's half brother, Aleck Todd, was killed fighting for the Confederates at Baton Rouge. Another Confederate half brother, David, was wounded at Vicksburg and died in 1867. The husband of one of Mary's younger half sisters (Emilie), General Benjamin Hardin Helm, was killed at age 32 in the Battle of Chickamauga. Mary assisted in raising funds for the Contraband Relief Association.

1864

Mary began showing increasing signs of irrationality, especially in matters concerning money. She worried that if Abraham lost the Election of 1864 her wild spending would be discovered. More time was spent in seances with mediums and clairvoyants. At least 8 seances were held in the White House (during Mary's time as First Lady). Abraham was curious about the spiritualists but not a believer.

1865

Mary and Abraham attended the play "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theatre on April 14, and Abraham was shot by John Wilkes Booth. Mary entered a period of extreme grief.


Inside of Ford's Theatre

1866

In January the Congressional Committee on House Appropriations began investigating whether Mary had taken White House property such as bedding, utensils, china, table linen, etc. The investigation was terminated when no wrongdoing was discovered. Mary was depressed by a statement made by William Herndon, Abraham's former law partner. Herndon claimed Ann Rutledge was the true love of Lincoln's life. Mary bought a home at 375 W. Washington St. in Chicago for $17,000. She moved out and rented it the next year.

1868

Mary and Tad traveled to Europe and spent much of the next three years in Frankfurt, Germany. Tad was a student at Dr. D. Hohagen's Institute near Frankfurt from October 1868 to April of 1870. On September 24, 1868, Robert Lincoln married Mary Eunice Harlan.

1869

Mrs. Lincoln vacationed in Scotland during July and August.

1870

On July 14 Congress passed a bill granting Mary a $3,000 annual lifetime pension.

1871

The Lincolns returned to the United States. In Chicago, on July 15, Tad died of complications resulting from fluid in the lungs. Tad was at the Clifton House when he passed away. Services were held at his older brother's home on Wabash Avenue. Tad's remains were carried by train to Springfield for burial in the Lincoln Tomb.


Tad Lincoln

1875

Mary's only surviving son, Robert, instigated a hearing in which Mary was declared insane by a jury of 12 men. The court admitted that "the disease was of unknown duration; the cause is unknown." (The night after the verdict Mary may have tried to commit suicide.) Mary, now 56, spent several months in a private asylum in Batavia, Illinois, but she was released with the help of Myra Bradwell.

LEFT: Robert T. Lincoln RIGHT: Bellevue Place (where Mary was institutionalized)

1876

After her release from Bellevue, Mary had gone to Springfield to live with her sister, Elizabeth Edwards. On June 15th, a second court hearing reversed the insanity ruling of the first one. Mary was now a free woman again. She was free to make her own decisions. On June 19th she wrote a letter to Robert in which she unleashed all the resentment she had been harboring against him for the past many months. Worried that her friends would still regard her as a lunatic, Mary once again traveled to Europe and spent much of the next four years living in Pau, France.

1877

Mary visited Marseilles, Naples, and Sorrento.

1879

At the age of 60, in Pau, Mary took a fall from a stepladder. She injured her spinal cord. In pain she traveled to Nice, France.

1880

On October 16 Mary boarded a ship (l'Amerique) bound for New York City. On board the ship she was about to take yet another fall down a steep stairway, but she was saved by actress Sarah Bernhardt, another passenger on the ship. When Sarah told her she might have been killed, Mary replied, "Yes, but it was not God's will." Mary returned to Springfield and again began living in the home of her older sister, Elizabeth Edwards. Physically, she had a cataract in her right eye, her weight had declined to approximately 100 pounds, and her arthritis was getting worse.

1881

A variety of physical ailments caused Mary's health to decline rapidly. She was nearly blind. On a Sunday in May Robert and his daughter visited her. Mary traveled to the mineral baths at St. Catherines and then to New York. A doctor diagnosed her with kidney problems, eye problems, and spinal sclerosis. Some researchers feel she had been diabetic for years.

1882

In January Congress raised Mary's annual pension from $3000 to $5000. Also, it voted her a donation of $15,000. Mary lived in a darkened room in Elizabeth's home with the shades always pulled. On July 15, the anniversary of Tad's death, she collapsed in her bedroom. She may have had a stroke. The next day, Sunday, Mary passed away at 8:15 P.M. Thus, she died in the same home she was married in. She was still wearing the wedding ring with "Love is Eternal" engraved on the inside when she passed away. Her estate was worth $84,035 (mostly in bonds). She died without leaving a will (like Abraham). Mary was buried in a white silk dress that the Edwards family quickly ordered from Chicago. She was 63 years old at the time of her passing. The funeral was delayed until Robert, then Secretary of War, could reach Springfield from Washington. Services were held at the First Presbyterian Church at 10:00 A.M. on Wednesday, July 19, with Reverend Dr. James Armstrong Reed presiding. The pallbearers included the governor of Illinois. Mary was buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield; all members of the family except Robert are buried there. Robert, who died in 1926, was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

NOTE: For much more information on Mary's life, see the excellent book written by Jean H. Baker entitled Mary Todd Lincoln - A Biography. Another good source of information is a book written by Mary's niece, Katherine Helm. It's titled Mary, Wife of Lincoln.

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