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Mary Todd Lincoln

Mary Todd LincolnAKA Mary Ann Todd

Born: 13-Dec-1818
Birthplace: Lexington, KY
Died: 16-Jul-1882
Location of death: Springfield, IL
Cause of death: Stroke
Remains: Buried, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, IL

Gender: Female
Religion: Presbyterian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: First Lady

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Wife of US President Abraham Lincoln

As beloved as Abraham Lincoln is in American history, his wife Mary Todd Lincoln seems to be equally despised. She was barely 21, having just moved from Lexington, Kentucky to live with her sister in Springfield, when she first met Lincoln. Her family, aristocratic and proud of ancestors who fought in the American Revolutionary War, did not approve of the poor, self-made Lincoln, who seemed something of a hick. Like a bad soap opera, they dated, broke up, then dated secretly, got engaged, and broke up again before marrying in 1842.

She had grown up in a 14-room mansion; he in a log cabin. She was privately tutored, he was self-taught. They spent their first year of marriage living in a boarding house, where their first child was born. By most accounts, though, Mrs Lincoln took her newfound poverty with good grace, raising their children in rented flats and, eventually, a small cottage, as her husband's fortunes slowly improved. She attended the last of his famous Senate debates against Stephen Douglas, and consoled her husband when he lost that election.

When he was elected President, media accounts described the new First Lady as plump and plain, and she took such reports as an insult not just to her but to her husband. Everything she wore was scrutinized and critiqued in the newspapers, convincing her more and more that she needed to wear the very finest fashions. She spent more on clothes than her husband could afford, but her spending only added to the ridicule she faced from the public and media.

She spoke her mind on political matters -- sometimes in French, and in a time when women were supposed to be demure and soft-spoken, she came across so forcefully that her husband's staff referred to her as "the hellcat". While North and South warred, the Lincolns' 11-year-old son Willie suddenly became ill with typhoid fever, and died in the White House. Wildly distraught, Mrs Lincoln sought out mediums and spiritualists to contact the dead boy, but they only bilked her out of another small fortune the Lincolns could not afford.

Furthermore, the Civil War ripped her apart as it did the nation. She had been raised in a slave-owning family, but came to abhor slavery. Her best friend was her seamstress, the freed slave Elizabeth Keckley. As a well-bred woman of Kentucky, she was reviled by Southerners as a turncoat, while Northerners doubted her loyalty. Six of her close relatives fought in the war -- all for the Confederacy -- and two of her stepbrothers and a brother-in-law were killed in battle. Of one of her dead stepbrothers, she said, "He made his choice long ago. He decided against my husband, through him against me. He has been fighting against us and since he chose to be our deadly enemy, I see no special reason why I should bitterly mourn his death." Yet when her brother-in-law Ben Hardin Helm was killed fighting for the Confederates in the Battle of Chickamauga, the Lincolns took in his widow, her stepsister Emilie, to live with them in the White House.

In July 1863, Mrs Lincoln was seriously injured when she was thrown from her carriage, a deep gash inflicted on her forehead. Even as she recovered from the carriage wreck, her other ailments, diagnosed or rumored, became nearly as well-known as her name. She had frequent headaches, presumably migraines, and some scholars suspect she had diabetes. Her behavior suggests that she suffered severe and extended depression, anxiety and paranoia.

Her husband, of course, was shot and killed as he sat beside her at Ford's Theater, and after his death she was inconsolable. She continued living in the White House for five weeks, then spent most of the next two decades consumed by physical and mental illness. Embroiled in controversy over her finances and allegations of insanity, she wrote impassioned letters to friends and acquaintances, begging for money to pay her debts. She tried to sell the clothes she had worn while First Lady. She continued buying fancy jewelry and fine clothing, though for years she never wore anything but black in public.

Her son Robert broke down in tears on the witness stand, as he had her committed to an asylum in 1875. Ruled insane, she attempted suicide on the night of the judge's verdict. With control of his mother's finances, Robert Lincoln tried to pay down her debts, and returned much of the jewelry she had purchased but never paid for. After four months in the asylum, she was released to the custody of her sister Elizabeth. The sisters lived together for the rest of Mrs Lincoln's life, the former First Lady rarely emerging from her room, where the curtains were always drawn. She was buried wearing her wedding ring, inscribed "A.L. to Mary, Nov. 4, 1842. Love is Eternal".

Through her stepmother, Mary Todd Lincoln was distantly related to John C. Breckinridge, US Vice President under James Buchanan. Robert Todd Lincoln, who had her committed, later served as US Secretary of War during the Presidencies of James Garfield and Chester A. Arthur. He was the only one of the Lincolns' four sons to reach adulthood.

Father: Robert Smith Todd (Kentucky legislator, b. 25-Feb-1791, d. 17-Jul-1849 cholera)
Mother: Eliza Parker Todd (b. circa 1794, m. 26-Nov-1812, d. 6-Jul-1825 childbirth)
Sister: Elizabeth Parker Todd Edwards (b. 18-Nov-1813, d. 22-Feb-1888)
Sister: Frances "Fanny" Jane Todd Wallace (b. 7-Mar-1815, d. 14-Aug-1899)
Brother: Levi Oldham Todd (b. 25-Jun-1817, d. 18-Jul-1864)
Sister: Ann Marie Todd Smith (b. 1824, d. 21-Mar-1891)
Brother: Robert Parker Todd (b. circa 1820, d. Jul-1822)
Brother: George Rogers Clark Todd (physician, b. Jul-1825, d. 1902)
Mother: Elizabeth "Betsy" Humphreys (stepmother, b. circa 1800, m. 1-Nov-1826, d. 1874)
Brother: Robert Humphreys Todd (stepbrother, b. 1827, d. 1827)
Sister: Margaret Todd Kellogg (stepsister, b. 14-Dec-1828, d. 13-Mar-1904)
Brother: Samuel Brown Todd (stepbrother, Confederate soldier, b. 25-Mar-1830, d. 7-Apr-1862 Civil War)
Brother: David Humphreys Todd (stepbrother, prison warden, b. 25-Mar-1832, d. Aug-1871)
Sister: Martha Todd White (stepsister, b. 9-Jun-1833, d. 9-Jul-1868)
Sister: Emilie Pariet Todd Helm (stepsister, b. 11-Nov-1836, d. 20-Feb-1930)
Brother: Alexander Humphreys "Aleck" Todd (stepbrother, Confederate soldier, b. 18-Feb-1839, d. 5-Aug-1862 Civil War)
Sister: Elodie Breck "Jane" Todd Dawson (stepsister, d.)
Sister: Katharine "Kitty" Bodley Todd Herr (stepsister, b. 7-Oct-1841, d. 17-Apr-1875)
Husband: Abraham Lincoln (U.S. President, b. 12-Feb-1809, m. 4-Nov-1842, d. 15-Apr-1865)
Son: Robert Todd Lincoln (Secretary of War, b. 1-Aug-1843, d. 1926)
Son: Edward Baker Lincoln (b. 10-Mar-1846, d. 1850)
Son: William Wallace Lincoln (b. 21-Dec-1850, d. 20-Feb-1862)
Son: Thomas "Tad" Lincoln (b. 4-Apr-1853, d. 15-Jul-1871)

    High School: Academy of Dr. John Ward, Lexington, KY (1839)

    Nervous Breakdown May-1875
    Institutionalized Bellevue Place, Batavia, IL (20-May-1875 to 11-Sep-1875)
    Suicide Attempt 1875
    Stroke 15-Jul-1882
    Scottish Ancestry Maternal
    Irish Ancestry Paternal
    English Ancestry
    Risk Factors: Arthritis, Insomnia, Depression, Typhoid

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