Mary Todd Lincoln Research Site
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1. Mary Ann Todd was the fourth of seven children born to Robert S. Todd and his wife, Eliza Parker Todd. Mary was born on Sunday, December 13, 1818, in Lexington, Kentucky.

2. Mary's mother died in 1825, and the next year Robert married Elizabeth "Betsy" Humphreys. The couple had nine children.

3. In the fall of 1827 Mary Todd entered a school in Lexington called the Shelby Female Academy. At the time she was nearly nine years old. For the next ten years (with one year's absence due to a visit to Springfield, Illinois) Mary was in school, first at Shelby and later at Madame Charlotte Mentelle's. Shelby Female Academy was also called Ward's (after Reverend John Ward and his wife who operated the school). While there Mary learned reading, writing, grammar, arithmetic, history, geography, natural science, French, and religion. Reverend Ward described his curriculum as "a complete system of female education." Mary did very well in school. .

4. In 1832 Mary enrolled at Madame Mentelle's boarding school. Mary lived at school during the week (although it was only a mile and a half from her home in Lexington) and came home for weekends. Mentelle's was called "a select family school." In addition to her studies at Mentelle's, Mary acted in school plays, danced in the parlor, and marched in local parades. Also, while at Mentelle's, Mary acquired a solid grounding in English literature, an excellent reading knowledge of French, and the ability to carry on a conversation in an excellent Parisian accent.

This is a 1948 photograph of the house where Mary's family moved in 1832. It was opened to the public in 1977. (Photo credit: J. Winston Coleman, Jr., Transylvania University Special Collections.)

5. As an adult Mary was about 5-2 and had a somewhat full, rounded body. When she was younger, she weighed about 130, but no official weight is recorded when she was First Lady. She had gained weight by that time. She had a broad forehead, straight nose, short upper lip, fair complexion, and brown hair. Her skin was light. Her posture was good.

6. "Who is that man?" That is what Mary said in reaction to seeing Abraham Lincoln for the first time at a cotillion in 1839.

7. At the cotillion Abraham Lincoln came up and said to her, "Miss Todd, I want to dance with you the worst way." The very next evening, Abraham called on her. Over the next few years Mary became engaged to Abraham (though not formally announced), broke up with him, entered a period of separation, and finally began seeing him again (with the help of mutual friends, Mr. and Mrs. Simeon Francis). In the fall of 1842, the couple decided to be married.

8. Prior to the wedding, Abraham visited Chatterton's jewelry shop located on the west side of the square in Springfield. He ordered a gold wedding ring. Mary and Abraham had agreed that the words "Love is Eternal" were to be engraved therein. (Research exists that states the entire inscription actually read "A.L. to Mary, Nov. 4, 1842. Love is Eternal.")

9. Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd were married at her older sister's home on Friday evening, November 4, 1842. About thirty relatives and friends attended the ceremony. The marriage was performed by Reverend Charles N. Dresser, an Episcopal minister.

10. Three of the Lincolns' four children died very young. Eddie Lincoln: In December of 1849 Eddie became quite ill with what was thought to be diphtheria. Most likely the disease was really pulmonary tuberculosis. Mary rubbed his chest with balsam. However, after 52 days of acute illness, Eddie passed away on February 1, 1850. He wasn't even four years old. Willie Lincoln: Just before Christmas, 1861, Willie turned 11. His future seemed extremely bright. Shortly thereafter Willie became ill. His condition fluctuated from day to day. Most likely the illness was typhoid fever possibly caused by drinking contaminated water. Gradually Willie weakened. Both parents spent much time at his bedside. Finally, on Thursday, February 20, 1862, at 5:00 P.M. the young boy passed away in the White House. Tad Lincoln: During the spring of 1871 Tad caught a bad cold. By late May he developed difficulty in breathing when lying down and had to sleep sitting up in a chair. By early June he was dangerously ill. He then rallied for a short time. As July approached he weakened again. Tad's pain and agony worsened as his face grew thinner. On Saturday morning, July 15, 1871, Tad passed away at the age of 18. The cause of death was most likely tuberculosis.

11. Mary Lincoln rarely saw her husband during the summer and fall of 1858 during the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. However, Abraham was home for a July 4th celebration in Springfield. While home, historians feel Mary and Abraham may have worked out an 8-page tabulation of the probable voting behavior of each legislative district in Illinois. Mary did her own "campaigning" in Springfield. To anyone who would listen she called Stephen Douglas "a very little giant" beside "my tall Kentuckian." Also, she may have pasted the newspaper accounts of her husband's speeches during the debates into a scrapbook. All in all, however, she was relegated to the traditional female role of helpmate rather than partner.

In mid-October Mary did travel to Alton to hear the last of the debates. Robert Lincoln also attended. There Mary witnessed one of Abraham's best performances during the debates. It was a cloudy, threatening day. Douglas was hoarse which helped Abraham. Although the debates had always fascinated her, being there in person was thrilling, despite the fact that she had one of her terrible headaches on the day of the Alton debate. Mary never wavered in her absolute 100% devotion to the Republican cause. She felt Abraham towered above Douglas both physically and intellectually.

12. According to Elizabeth Keckley Mary's favorite color was white. Additionally, Mary liked pink, deep purple, bright yellow, royal blue, and crimson.

13. In her first year as First Lady, Mary purchased 84 pairs of gloves, a $3,000 shawl, and a $4,000 earrings and pin set. Mary's dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley, made her 15 or 16 dresses during her first spring in the White House. One of these was an off the shoulder white silk gown with 60 bows and hundreds of black dots tacked to it. For typical White House functions, Mary wore flowers in her hair, carried an arranged bouquet, and always had her gloves pulled taut. Some of her outfits had a long train. She preferred low cut gowns with short sleeves that displayed her smooth arms and neck. Pearls were her favorite jewelry.

14. For the 2nd Inaugural Ball in 1865, Mary wore an elegant white satin gown with an overlay of white point lace with puffs of silk. Mary carried a fan of ermine and silver spangles and wore white gloves, a pearl necklace, and earrings. Her hair was swept back into curls and a wreath of intertwined white jasmine and purple violets crowned her head after Willie Lincoln died in February 1862, Mary wore black mourning clothes for over a year. Her headgear was so rigidly constructed, she could barely turn her head. Her jewelry was jet black. After the mourning period ended, she wore half-mourning colors of lavender, gray, and somber purples with a touch of white.

15. On the night of Lincoln's assassination when they were at Ford's Theatre Mary wore a black and white striped silk dress, with black lace veiling on her hair.

The Petersen House (center), in Washington across the street from Ford's Theatre, where Mary waited as her husband lay dying.

16. As First Lady Mary spent a good deal of time refurbishing the White House. (However, Mary overspent her budget. She was given $20,000, but her spending sprees in New York and other cities amounted to about $27,000. This deficit was quietly "covered up" in an appropriation bill later passed by Congress.) She also made many trips to hospitals to take food, flowers, etc. to injured soldiers. She read to the soldiers, wrote them letters, and once raised $1,000 for the Christmas dinner at a military hospital. Tad often accompanied her on these visits to see the soldiers (Willie had died in the White House early in 1862; Robert was away at college). Additionally, Mary provided support for the Contraband Relief Association which helped blacks who came to the North during the Civil War. She was opposed to slavery, and she strongly supported her husband's pro-Union policies. On the other hand, Mary received criticism for her numerous shopping sprees and because many of her relatives had chosen to side with the South during the Civil War.

17. The husband of Emile Todd Helm (Mary's youngest half sister), General Benjamin Hardin Helm, was killed fighting for the Confederates at Chickamauga. Sam Todd, Mary's half-brother, was killed fighting for the Confederates at Shiloh. David Todd, another Confederate half-brother, was wounded at Vicksburg and died after the war in 1867. Aleck Todd, yet another Confederate half-brother, died in a skirmish near Baton Rouge. Mary's full brother, George Rogers Clark Todd, was a surgeon at a Confederate hospital in Camden, South Carolina. Levi Todd, a full brother to Mary, was a Unionist but was too old and unfit for military duty during the Civil War. He died in 1864. Mary's only other full brother, Robert Parker Todd, was long since dead. Of the 14 living Todd children at the time of the Civil War, eight supported the Confederacy and six supported the Union.

18. During the Civil War rumors circulated in Washington that Mary spied for the Confederacy. It was even said that rebels came by ladder to her bedroom window where she passed military secrets to them. The reason for these rumors was that Mary had several relatives who served in the Confederate army. In truth Mary had not seen or spoken with these relatives for years. The Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War met in secret session in 1863 to consider the rumors of Mary's alleged treason, but when no evidence was found the Committee promptly dropped the investigation. The truth is that Mary Todd Lincoln was a loyal and staunch Unionist.

19. In 1865, after departing Washington by train, Mary went to Chicago and lived with Tad in the Tremont House. Later Mary moved to the Hyde Park Hotel, but in 1866 she purchased a home at 375 W. Washington in Chicago. This home was located between Willard (later known as Ann) and Elizabeth Streets. The 375 was the old address when Mary lived there. She attended the Third Presbyterian Church at Washington and Carpenter Streets. Tad attended Sunday School at the (old) First Congregational Church at Washington and Green Streets. At that time Washington Street had a wooden sidewalk, and Mary could look down the block both ways from her front parlor. Tad attended Brown School on Warren Avenue between Page and Wood Streets. In May 1867 Mary rented her home and moved to the Clifton House at the southeast corner of Wabash and Madison. Tad then went to school at the Chicago Academy located at 216 Wabash (old number) between Adams and Jackson. Later in the same year Mary moved back to her old neighborhood and lived at 460 Washington, almost opposite Union Park. Again in 1868 Mary stayed at the Clifton House. After spending several years in Europe, in May, 1871, Mary and Tad returned to Chicago and lived with son Robert at his home at 653 Wabash Avenue. She soon moved out and was back at the Clifton House. Tad died in the Clifton House in the summer of 1871. In 1874 Mary was living at the Grand Central Hotel located on Michigan Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets. On April 6, 1874, she sold her old home on Washington Street.

20. Mary Lincoln made two trips to Europe. The first trip was from 1868-1871 and the second was from 1876-1880.

21. In 1875 Robert T. Lincoln instigated the court proceedings which led to Mary's confinement. She was institutionalized for about four months during the summer of 1875. Mary was released from Bellevue (in Batavia, Illinois) on September 10, 1875. She traveled to Springfield to live with Elizabeth Edwards, her sister. On June 15, 1876, a second jury concluded that she was "restored to reason and capable to manage and control her estate."

Photograph of Bellevue Place, the private sanitarium where Mary spent the summer of 1875.

22. There are 26 known photographs of Mary. They can all be found in a booklet entitled The Photographs of Mary Todd Lincoln by Lloyd Ostendorf (Springfield, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 1989). There are no known photos of Mary and Abraham together.

23. Mary loved writing letters. Over 600 of her letters can be read in Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters by Justin G. Turner and Linda Levitt Turner.

24. The Lincoln family hired domestic help while living in Springfield, but there was a high turnover as Mary Lincoln paid mediocre wages and was difficult to get along with. One person hired was an 18-year-old Irish girl named Catherine Gordon. Another was a young girl named Mary Johnson. A third was a lady named Mariah Vance.

25. After the assassination Mary Lincoln was too distraught to attend her husband's funeral in the White House. She did not attend any of the funerals along the route of the funeral train (which she was not on). She didn't attend the funeral in Springfield on May 4, either. She remained confined in the White House until May 22; then she departed for Chicago.

26. When it comes to recipes Mary was known for her white almond cake. One version of her recipe is as follows: Preheat oven to 350° F. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Cream the butter, then add 1-3/4 cups sugar gradually, until light. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the milk. Fold in the almonds, and extracts. Beat the egg whites with remaining sugar and salt until soft peaks form. Fold into batter. Pour into a buttered and floured 9-inch tube pan. Bake one hour or until cake begins to pull from sides. Cool cake 10 minutes in pan, then loosen around the edges with a spatula and finish cooling on a rack.

27. In the summer of 1848 the Lincolns with their two boys traveled across New York State, saw Niagara Falls, and took the steamer from Buffalo across the Great Lakes. After nine days they arrived in Chicago and took the train home to Springfield. On July 22, 1857, the Lincolns departed from Springfield for a trip to New York. On July 24, they were registered at the Cataract House in Niagara Falls. Little else is know of the trip except that it ended on July 30. Later Mary wrote of the trip as follows: "The summer has so strangely and rapidly passed away. Some portion of it was spent most pleasantly in traveling East. We visited Niagara, Canada, New York, and other points of interest."

28. Mary grew up in a Presbyterian family in Lexington. The Todds were members of the McChord Presbyterian Church on Market Street. When Mary first moved to Springfield, she became an Episcopalian and was married by an Episcopalian minister. In 1850 she transferred her allegiance back to the Presbyterian church, and she attended Presbyterian churches in Springfield from 1850-1861 and in Washington, D.C. from 1861-1865. Her funeral sermon in 1882 was preached by a Presbyterian minister. Mary was considered a religious person by those who knew her, but she didn't actively study the Bible and rarely quoted it in her letters. However, her conversations and writing gave evidence of a fundamental belief in God.

29. Mary believed in spiritualism and held several séances in the White House. Abraham probably attended at least one of these. In 1863 Mary told Emilie Todd Helm, "Willie lives. He comes to me every night and stands at the foot of the bed with the same sweet adorable smile he always has had. He does not always come alone. Little Eddie is sometimes with him, and twice he has come with our brother, Alex." (Alex was a half brother of Mary's who was killed in the Civil War.)

30. Mary suffered from a variety of ailments. Her earliest and most common complaint was headaches. At times her headaches were so severe as to be disabling. In later life she also developed a persistent cough, and she herself felt she had "weak lungs." Additionally she suffered from hypothyroidism (myxoedema), periodic hallucinations, arthritis, boils, spinal pain and disability, and diabetes. Another story that has made the rounds was that Mary had a brain tumor. There was no autopsy or even any kind of post mortem examination of her body. During her final months in 1882, Mary was weak and underweight. She took a sharp turn for the worse two days before she eventually died. Eventually she fell into a paralysis that seemed to involve her whole system. She could not speak, move any body part, or eat. She soon was in a totally comatose state, breathing stertorously, and finally passed away. Dr. W.A. Evans, the only physician to also write a biography of Mary, speculated that she passed away from apoplexy (stroke) or diabetic coma. Mary's attending physician, Dr. T.W. Dresser, wrote "paralysis" as the cause of death on the death certificate. However, the absolute, 100% for certain cause of death is unknown, although Evans' speculations, as stated above, are accepted by most experts.

31. Additionally there is the research of Dr. Norbert Hirschhorn on this subject. Dr. Hirschhorn is a researcher and physician. His research indicates Mary died of tabes dorsalis which is a condition that results from the destruction of the dorsal columns in the spinal cord, normally responsible for position sense. Loss of position sense causes severe gait and leg ataxia (balance and motor control problems). Tabes dorsalis can be the result of spinal cord injury or infection (syphilis). At the age of 60, in Pau, France, Mary took a fall from a stepladder and injured her spinal cord. Tabes dorsalis results in a staggering wide-based gait, postural instability, pain, and paresthesias.

32. On July 16, 1882, Mary passed away at the age of 63.

33. The pallbearers for Mary's funeral were Illinois Governor Shelby Moore Cullom, Milton Hay, James C. Conkling, John A. McClernand substituting for O.M. Hatch (who had originally been named), Jacob Bunn, and John S. Bradford. The above named men were the active pallbearers. They were preceded by two honorary pallbearers: Judge S.H. Treat and Col. John Williams. Mary was buried in a white silk dress that the Edwards family had quickly ordered from Chicago. The eulogy was given by Dr. James Armstrong Reed. The church was the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield. The date of the funeral was July 19, 1882. Mary died without leaving a will, but her wish to be buried in the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield was honored. Among the attendees at the funeral were Robert T. Lincoln, Mrs. W.S. Wallace, Mr. and Mrs. Ninian Edwards, Mr. and Mrs. C.M. Smith, and numerous other relatives and long time friends and dignitaries (including many officers of the state of Illinois plus members of the Lincoln Guard of Honor). Flowers at the funeral were elaborate. Among the banked-up tributes of flowers was one in the form of a large book made of carnations with the name Mary Lincoln in blue forget-me-nots on the opened pages. This gift of flowers came as "the loving offering of the people" of Springfield. Another floral representation, in carnations, roses, and daises, was of the spiritualist convention - "the Pearly Gates Ajar."

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