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Mary's Reputation
07-15-2012, 12:57 PM
Post: #1
Mary's Reputation
I have always had a soft spot for Mary Lincoln, but most books portray her as a shrew. One of my favorites, however, was Crowns of Thorns and Glory, which compares Mary with Varina Davis. One was vilified; the other was glorified.

Do y'all think Herndon's conflicts with Mary and his subsequent writings are the chief cause of negative history about the First Lady?
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07-15-2012, 01:22 PM (This post was last modified: 07-15-2012 05:17 PM by RJNorton.)
Post: #2
RE: Mary's Reputation
Hi Laurie. Personally I think this is true, at least in in part. Certainly Mary did some things totally separate from Herndon that caused her to have a "reputation." Her negative comments about Mrs. Ord and Mrs. Grant, for example, had nothing to do with Herndon.

Regarding Herndon there is the following explanation which I believe the experts have different "takes" on. For what it's worth, here goes:

In 1837, when they were both very young, they were at a party and Herndon asked Mary to dance. After the dance, Herndon observed that Mary had seemed to glide through the waltz with the ease of a serpent. Mary was furious and responded that she didn't like being compared to a serpent, even if Herndon was just kidding her. She walked away and left him on the dance floor. From then on they never got along, and this cold relationship continued for the rest of their lives. Herndon was opposed to Lincoln marrying into the wealth and aristocracy of Springfield, and he was not invited to the wedding in 1842. Additionally, Herndon felt Mary's temper and personality made for a poor wife and a lousy home life for his law partner.

And, of course, this negative opinion (some writers have even used the word "hatred") of Mary was apparent in his later writings and lectures.
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07-15-2012, 01:53 PM
Post: #3
RE: Mary's Reputation
Although I believe that Lincoln loved Ann Rutledge, I think Herndon's lecture was designed only to embarrass Mary, and showed very poor taste. I think it's interesting to note that Herndon's poor reputation among some historians did not elevate Mary's. I think Roger hit it on the head in that one cannot put it all at Herndon's feet.

Best
Rob

Abraham Lincoln in the only man, dead or alive, with whom I could have spent five years without one hour of boredom.
--Ida M. Tarbell
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07-15-2012, 02:45 PM
Post: #4
RE: Mary's Reputation
I can't forget Nicolay or Hay's comment that "The Hellcat is getting more Hellcatical by the day". Hellcat is a nasty handle to earn.

"There are few subjects that ignite more casual, uninformed bigotry and condescension from elites in this nation more than Dixie - Jonah Goldberg"
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07-15-2012, 04:19 PM (This post was last modified: 07-15-2012 04:19 PM by RJNorton.)
Post: #5
RE: Mary's Reputation
Joe, I wonder if "The Tycoon" knew about that...
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07-15-2012, 05:02 PM
Post: #6
RE: Mary's Reputation
Mary Lincoln was not a shrinking violet and powerful women make powerful enemies. I would put her on a par with Hillary Clinton. You either loved her or hated her when she was First Lady. There didn't seem to be much if any middle ground.
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07-15-2012, 06:31 PM
Post: #7
RE: Mary's Reputation
Jerry,

Believe it or not, I tend to agree with you on this particular subject (Mary/Hillary) in that both were/are intelligent women with a good instinct for politics - something that the still male-dominated arena cannot handle. The same thing happened when Sarah Palin (and I'm not a fan) came on the national scene. Outspoken, smart women have to be put down.

In Mary's case, this may even have carried over to domestic life before she was put in the spotlight. Her volatile temper did not match what the Victorians held as the standard for a proper, loving, and obedient wife. And Lincoln's mood swings and "rustic" behavior didn't help the situation much.

I also suspect that she might have had a chemical imbalance in her physical makeup that caused some of this. I have had several friends over time that had much the same behavior patterns - one could actually see them building up a head of steam. Modern medicine has helped them tremendously.
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07-15-2012, 08:59 PM (This post was last modified: 07-15-2012 09:13 PM by Gene C.)
Post: #8
RE: Mary's Reputation
In spite of Mary's shortcomings, the one thing I admire about her was her visits to wounded soldiers. She would visit the wounded, write letters home for them, sometimes tend to their wounds. She did something most "ladies of high society" of her time would never consider. Her actions came from the heart, and not for politcal gain.

Current political leaders, on both sides, could learn from her example.

So when is this "Old Enough To Know Better" supposed to kick in?
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07-16-2012, 05:56 AM (This post was last modified: 07-16-2012 05:58 AM by RJNorton.)
Post: #9
RE: Mary's Reputation
Gene, thank you for mentioning that - very true.

For folks trying to figure Mary out - I would recommend an old book entitled Mrs. Abraham Lincoln by Dr. William Augustus Evans. It's the only biography that I know of written by a medical doctor. Dr. Evans gets into her psyche as well as any other author I've seen, although some modern authors have criticized his book as being outdated and too sympathetic to Mary. Still, I think it explains her various behaviors in an easy to understand form.

[Image: DrEvans.jpg]
Dr. W.A. Evans
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07-16-2012, 10:34 AM
Post: #10
RE: Mary's Reputation
Thanks for the suggestion to read Dr. Evans's book, Roger. I had never heard of it. I know that the Mary-bashing seems to be quite prevalent among the Lincoln scholars today. One in particular was almost vicious.

It would be interesting to put some of them in petticoats and see how they dealt with losing a mother at an early age, not getting along with the stepmother, being married to someone they loved who had a totally different style, losing children at an early age, dealing with a husband pre-occupied with a Civil War and subject to depression, and finally having that husband shot while you are holding his arm. I could go on about the treatment that she received from Congress...

Gene, thanks for the kind words you posted about her trips to help the wounded soldiers. Most authors forget to mention that.
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07-16-2012, 10:58 AM (This post was last modified: 07-16-2012 10:58 AM by J. Beckert.)
Post: #11
RE: Mary's Reputation
I think you summed that up very well, Laurie, but one thing I can't excuse is the story she once hit Lincoln in the face with a piece of firewood when he was having trouble starting a fire. Her Springfield behavior was so over the top, I really believe some kind of imbalance was going on with Mary before the stresses of the war.

"There are few subjects that ignite more casual, uninformed bigotry and condescension from elites in this nation more than Dixie - Jonah Goldberg"
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07-16-2012, 11:02 AM (This post was last modified: 07-16-2012 11:04 AM by Gene C.)
Post: #12
RE: Mary's Reputation
OK, I'm going to say it, and I hope I don't offend anyone.
I think her hormones were out of balance.

So when is this "Old Enough To Know Better" supposed to kick in?
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07-16-2012, 11:07 AM (This post was last modified: 07-16-2012 12:21 PM by RJNorton.)
Post: #13
RE: Mary's Reputation
Thanks, Joe. Your post reminded me that I should try to be "fair and balanced" when suggesting books about Mary Lincoln. I mentioned Evans' book in a previous post - that book is quite sympathetic to Mary.

One of the best sources for the "opposite" side is Chapter 9 of "The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln" by Michael Burlingame. That particular chapter covers pages 268-326 and is entitled "The Lincolns' Marriage: A Fountain of Misery, of a Quality Absolutely Infernal."

Some of the incidents described in that chapter include Mary chasing Abraham with a broomstick. Once Lincoln fled the home as Mary was pitching potatoes as him. Another incident involved Mary throwing hot coffee in Abraham's face. Sometimes books were thrown at him. Burlingame indicates her temper tantrums continued when she was First Lady.

Basically author Burlingame paints a very negative picture of Mary. Her abusiveness was not just directed at Abraham. Also cited are incidents where she stuck the hired girls that the Lincolns employed while living in Springfield.

I really think before coming down really sympathetic toward her OR coming down really tough on her, it is best to read a variety of books before making up your own mind. Ruth Painter Randall's books are generally sympathetic to Mary. Many experts agree that Jean Baker's biography, now 25 years old, is still the best biography ever written on Mary. Her book is more balanced than Randall's, but it still leans in the direction of being sympathetic to Mary's life.
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07-16-2012, 11:13 AM
Post: #14
RE: Mary's Reputation
That is exactly what I suggested in one of my first postings on this subject. Women did not receive adequate pre-natal and post-natal care for centuries. Mary had gone through childbirth four times. Who knows what each pregnancy did to her system.

There were no tests for chemical imbalances until well into the 20th century. Even the questionable medicines available to them could cause side effects that doctors didn't even take into account.

From much that I have read also, the four sons were handsful to deal with; and authors have suggested that Lincoln was the child spoiler, not Mary. That would tend to get on a mother's nerves also. I also believe that Abe wasn't the easiest person to live with either.

I'm not saying that her outbursts were proper; I just think we don't fully understand what might have caused them. It's part of the Lincoln mystique to see him as a kind and gentle man with a shrew for a wife.
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07-16-2012, 12:56 PM
Post: #15
RE: Mary's Reputation
I feel that the book"Mary Todd Lincoln" best describes her temperment.But,the author feels she needs to be given a break due to all of "circumstances"in her life!
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