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Mary Todd Lincoln by Jean Baker
09-25-2019, 07:56 PM (This post was last modified: 09-26-2019 04:37 AM by Gene C.)
Post: #1
Mary Todd Lincoln by Jean Baker
Very interesting book.

The most interesting sections of the book for me were Mary's insanity trial and the comments about treating people with what was considered mental illness back during the late 1800's.

I can see why many of you who have read it and commented on Robert Lincoln feel the way you do. He is presented as the villain in his mothers life after his father is assassinated. It seems that Robert is very embarrassed by his mothers behavior and the steps he takes to limit the negative public opinion do not work, but only seem to make it worse. I'm not sure Robert was a bad as the author presents him.
Looking back over 100 years, it is easy to be critical of Robert, but trying to treat someone with her health issues has never been easy, probably more difficult back then.

The author also seems to indicate (at least to me) that Mary somewhat enjoys (or makes the best of it) her status as the widow of Abraham Lincoln. She enjoys playing the victim as a widow. Regardless, her life after the White House is very sad.

While Mary has her eccentric behavior, and she does have some medical issues which aggravate her mental state, she is a very intelligent and determined woman (and some might say manipulative). She manages to leave Bellevue Place less than four months after her committal. You also see this determination in Mary and Abraham's on and off
again relationship while courting, she seems to have never given up on it. When he dies, you see how truly lost she is without him.

Her life is more than just the years after the assassination, I find her a fascinating person, with many facets to her character. Here are a few of my favorite comments in this book....
Regarding Mary and the domestic servants. "Everyone had difficulty keeping hired girls" (page 106)
Regarding fear of burglars, "During these long absences (while Lincoln was on the circuit) Mary Lincoln's fear of robbers, thunderstorms, and the men who payed nocturnal visits to her hired girls increased. Sometimes young single men like Lincoln's law apprentice, Gibson Harris or her sister's relative Stephen Smith agreed to sleep in the house. Other times she paid a neighbor's child a dime to sleep in the back room or loft." (page 109)
Regarding her role as White House hostess with specific examples, "Mary Lincoln proved more at home in this 'exalted station' than her predecessors, who remained shadowy private persons during their tenure in the White House." (page 179)
Regarding Mary managing Lincoln's salary, "In contrast, the Lincolns lived on $6,600 a year, not much more than they had spent during there last years in Springfield. Under Mary's direction, (for her husband was negligent about money matters) they saved $70,000 of his $100,000 salary, less $3,600 for taxes." (page 192)
Regarding Mary giving away mementos of Lincoln, "By way of encouragement Mary Lincoln bestows a seemingly endless number of Lincoln's canes 'a slight memento - a little relic of my Beloved Husband"
Regarding Robert's wife, "A final curtain of animosity had dropped between the two Mary Lincolns...She may have discovered the secret of her daughter-in-laws alcoholism." (page 310)
Regarding Mary's attempted suicide, "This unlikely tale first appeared in a newspaper owned by Robert Lincoln's former law partner and was more a son's exculpation of filial treachery than a mother's demonstration of suicidal tendencies" (page 328, with several good reasons given)

https://www.amazon.com/Mary-Todd-Lincoln...247&sr=1-1

So when is this "Old Enough To Know Better" supposed to kick in?
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09-26-2019, 04:17 AM
Post: #2
RE: Mary Todd Lincoln by Jean Baker
(09-25-2019 07:56 PM)Gene C Wrote:  Regarding Mary's attempted suicide, "This unlikely tale first appeared in a newspaper owned by Robert Lincoln's former law partner and was more a son's exculpation of filial treachery than a mother's demonstration of suicidal tendencies" (page 328, with several good reasons given)

Wonderful post on Baker's book, Gene. I do know that the view that Mary's suicide attempt was actually unlikely is not shared by all authors. For anyone who would like to read a different opinion please see pp. 67-70 of Jason Emerson's The Madness of Mary Lincoln. Jason gives numerous reasons why he feels the suicide attempt was indeed "a serious attempt to take her own life."
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09-26-2019, 08:52 AM (This post was last modified: 09-26-2019 08:53 AM by Rob Wick.)
Post: #3
RE: Mary Todd Lincoln by Jean Baker
While Jean Baker's book will stand for a long time as the standard on Mary's life, I have to say I lost a great deal of respect for her when she endorsed C.A. Tripp's book on Lincoln's sexuality.

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

I want the respect of intelligent men, but I will choose for myself the intelligent.
--Carl Sandburg
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09-26-2019, 09:36 AM
Post: #4
RE: Mary Todd Lincoln by Jean Baker
(09-26-2019 08:52 AM)Rob Wick Wrote:  While Jean Baker's book will stand for a long time as the standard on Mary's life, I have to say I lost a great deal of respect for her when she endorsed C.A. Tripp's book on Lincoln's sexuality.

Best
Rob

I developed my understanding and appreciation of Mary Lincoln after reading Baker's book many long years ago. We also had her as a speaker at a Surratt Society banquet back in the late-80s or early-90s. Her style sort of "demanded" that you pay attention to her and understand what made Mary tick. It also helped that she shares much of the same opinions of Robert as I -- just can't get warm and fuzzy feelings about him, despite being friends with Jason...

Until Gene pointed it out, I had forgotten about the reference to Mary Harlan Lincoln having a drinking problem. I don't ever remember reading that anywhere else; did I miss it in Giant in the Shadows? I've always wanted to see something in depth about Mary Harlan, mainly because I suspect she was one of the problems that contributed to how Robert handled his mother's situation.

Rob - I agree that Mrs. Baker should never have gotten involved in the Lincoln's sexuality debate. Of course, I think Tripp's work should never have been published...
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09-26-2019, 03:07 PM (This post was last modified: 09-26-2019 03:12 PM by Eva Elisabeth.)
Post: #5
RE: Mary Todd Lincoln by Jean Baker
Great review, Gene, and great comment, Laurie. And wasn't it incredible how she despite all Robert's "conspiracy" and his "nasty lawyer tricks", despite all
circumstances managed to get out of Robert's "jail"?

To all who want to read "Mary's story" from different point of view, which is Mary's, I recommend "The trials of Mrs. Lincoln" by Samuel Schreiner.

The focus is on the insanety trials, but it at least briefly covers her entire life. The author shows therein that it is possible to explain her "insane" behavior, and one could understand the thoughts and fears he has put into Mary's mind as those of a human beings ones, not just as of those of a "hellcat'" or an "insane". And he offers a point of view on the marriage from which one could imagine that - despite the normal ups and downs - she might have been exactly the counterpart Abraham Lincoln needed - personally and with regard to his career. Except for Mary's fictional thoughts (point of view), all is factual, carrying a lot of interesting facts actually, including sources.
I think Mary deserves this book to be read (and I hope someone will do and share his/her opinion, I am curious...)

https://www.amazon.com/Trials-Mrs-Lincol...0803293259
.
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09-26-2019, 07:12 PM (This post was last modified: 09-27-2019 05:11 AM by Gene C.)
Post: #6
RE: Mary Todd Lincoln by Jean Baker
(09-26-2019 09:36 AM)L Verge Wrote:  Until Gene pointed it out, I had forgotten about the reference to Mary Harlan Lincoln having a drinking problem. I don't ever remember reading that anywhere else; did I miss it in Giant in the Shadows? I've always wanted to see something in depth about Mary Harlan, mainly because I suspect she was one of the problems that contributed to how Robert handled his mother's situation.

I looked through Jason Emerson's Giant In the Shadows and was unable to find any reference to Mary Harlan and a drinking problem.

There is a footnote in Baker's book about Mary
"The evidence for Mary Harlan Lincoln's alcoholism is circumstantial, although strong. Her husband never specifically names it, although he does refer obliquely to it in a number of ways. The stories about Mary Lincoln's wanting to kidnap her granddaughter, Mamie, were partly the result of the grandmother's desire to get her away from a drunken mother."
(page 405, note 88)

So when is this "Old Enough To Know Better" supposed to kick in?
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09-26-2019, 09:28 PM
Post: #7
RE: Mary Todd Lincoln by Jean Baker
(09-26-2019 07:12 PM)Gene C Wrote:  
(09-26-2019 09:36 AM)L Verge Wrote:  Until Gene pointed it out, I had forgotten about the reference to Mary Harlan Lincoln having a drinking problem. I don't ever remember reading that anywhere else; did I miss it in Giant in the Shadows? I've always wanted to see something in depth about Mary Harlan, mainly because I suspect she was one of the problems that contributed to how Robert handled his mother's situation.

I looked through Jason Emerson's Giant In the Shadows and was unable to find any reference to Mary Harlan and a drinking problem.

There is a footnote in Baker's book about Mary
"The evidence for Mary Harlan Lincoln's alcoholism is circumstantial, although strong. Her husband never specifically names it, although he does refer obliquely to it in a number of ways. The stories about Mary Lincoln's wanting to kidnap her granddaughter, Mamie, were partly the result of the grandmother's desire to her away from a drunken mother."
(page 405, note 88)

This note epitomizes the flaws in Baker's biography for me. She offers no specific evidence for her claim, circumstantial or otherwise, and essentially concludes that Mary Harlan was a drunk because she was a drunk.

I'm also not convinced that Mary managed Lincoln's salary in the White House, especially in light of her own financial difficulties. Didn't he die with uncashed salary checks in his desk?
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09-27-2019, 01:30 AM (This post was last modified: 09-27-2019 12:44 PM by Eva Elisabeth.)
Post: #8
RE: Mary Todd Lincoln by Jean Baker
He did if I recall correctly. I think Mary basically was able to manage money well as she proved in the Lincolns' beginnings (from the Globe Tavern to a decent house...) as well as in later life in France, but maybe sometimes lost control due to circumstances "impairing" her thinking/reason.
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09-27-2019, 03:16 AM
Post: #9
RE: Mary Todd Lincoln by Jean Baker
I'm not a medical expert but ... (warning ! cliche leading to an outrageous statement) ... I think that it is known that people suffering from clinical depression or bipolar can sometimes have the habit of irrational or compulsive spending.
We dont know if Mary suffered from these but if she did , then unusual spending might have resulted.

“The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that” Robert Burns
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09-27-2019, 12:46 PM
Post: #10
RE: Mary Todd Lincoln by Jean Baker
That's what I would assume, Mike. Reasonable in "normal times" but "out of control" in a bout of disease.
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09-27-2019, 03:17 PM (This post was last modified: 09-27-2019 03:17 PM by L Verge.)
Post: #11
RE: Mary Todd Lincoln by Jean Baker
In case you married men haven't figured this out, women don't need medical excuses for going on shopping sprees... Much like some of us (male and female) can't contain ourselves when we get in a book store! And, there are times when husbands and children grate on nerves. Few male authors take into consideration that Lincoln's bouts with depression, his frequent absences in the early years, and his obsession with politics likely got on Mary's nerves as well. (and yes, she was quite interested in politics at the beginning -- until it started controlling her life, and the political bigwigs in D.C. didn't appreciate her.)

This does not excuse some of the public displays and tantrums that are attributed to Mary Lincoln, and I do believe that some of the speculation about medical issues might be accurate; but we will never know unless we exhume the body for DNA testing, and that is highly unlikely to happen.

In the past, I have recommended the book Crowns of Thorns and Glory. I continue to do so because it compares the Union First Lady with the Confederate First Lady, and a special point is made about merchants practically forcing things on Mary and also not telling her that an invoice would follow. Sort of like the car salesman today who tells you the base price and forgets to mention those never-ending add-ons.
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09-27-2019, 03:36 PM
Post: #12
RE: Mary Todd Lincoln by Jean Baker
(09-27-2019 03:17 PM)L Verge Wrote:  ... Much like some of us (male and female) can't contain ourselves when we get in a book store!

I can contain myself.
I just don't want to.
Rolleyes

So when is this "Old Enough To Know Better" supposed to kick in?
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09-27-2019, 05:39 PM
Post: #13
RE: Mary Todd Lincoln by Jean Baker
(09-27-2019 03:17 PM)L Verge Wrote:  In case you married men haven't figured this out, women don't need medical excuses for going on shopping sprees... Much like some of us (male and female) can't contain ourselves when we get in a book store! And, there are times when husbands and children grate on nerves. Few male authors take into consideration that Lincoln's bouts with depression, his frequent absences in the early years, and his obsession with politics likely got on Mary's nerves as well. (and yes, she was quite interested in politics at the beginning -- until it started controlling her life, and the political bigwigs in D.C. didn't appreciate her.)

This does not excuse some of the public displays and tantrums that are attributed to Mary Lincoln, and I do believe that some of the speculation about medical issues might be accurate; but we will never know unless we exhume the body for DNA testing, and that is highly unlikely to happen.

In the past, I have recommended the book Crowns of Thorns and Glory. I continue to do so because it compares the Union First Lady with the Confederate First Lady, and a special point is made about merchants practically forcing things on Mary and also not telling her that an invoice would follow. Sort of like the car salesman today who tells you the base price and forgets to mention those never-ending add-ons.
Good intro point, Laurie - nowadays most VIPs (and others) shop and spend like crazy without getting labeled "mentally disturbed"...
I also second the recommendation of "Crowns of Thorns and Glory" - great book!
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11-23-2019, 12:23 PM
Post: #14
RE: Mary Todd Lincoln by Jean Baker
In this book, author Jean Baker disagrees with the stories that Mary attempted suicide the day before she was committed to the Bellevue Place Sanatorium. She states several reason (page 326-327) on why the Chicago newspapers reporting her attempted suicide, got it wrong.

Among Ms. Baker's reasons, Mary was to closely watched to get away to purchase the poison and drugs unnoticed,
and the news first appeared in a newspaper owned by Robert Lincoln's former law partner.
She states this, "was more a son's exculpation of filial treachery than a mother's demonstration of suicidal tendencies".

So when is this "Old Enough To Know Better" supposed to kick in?
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11-23-2019, 12:59 PM
Post: #15
RE: Mary Todd Lincoln by Jean Baker
(11-23-2019 12:23 PM)Gene C Wrote:  In this book, author Jean Baker disagrees with the stories that Mary attempted suicide the day before she was committed to the Bellevue Place Sanatorium. She states several reason (page 326-327) on why the Chicago newspapers reporting her attempted suicide, got it wrong.

Among Ms. Baker's reasons, Mary was to closely watched to get away to purchase the poison and drugs unnoticed,
and the news first appeared in a newspaper owned by Robert Lincoln's former law partner.
She states this, "was more a son's exculpation of filial treachery than a mother's demonstration of suicidal tendencies".

Norbert Hirschorn, a physician, gives a far more balanced account than Baker's in the fall 2003 Lincoln Herald. Among other things, he notes that Baker claims that Mary would have had to walk three miles and back to procure the drugs--when in reality, the drugstores in question were one or two blocks from her hotel.
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