Friday, February 17, 2023

Mary Todd Lincoln's Life, a Timeline Summary, (1818-1882).

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: seven with his first wife, Eliza Parker, and nine with his second wife, Elizabeth Humphreys.

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

On November 1, Robert Todd married Betsy Humphreys. Mary entered Shelby Female Academy (aka 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 best students in the class.

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, Kentucky. Mary entered Madame Mentelle's boarding school for girls.

Elizabeth and Ninian Edwards moved to Springfield, Illinois.

Mary's sister, Frances, moved to Springfield.

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.

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).

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

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

Mary and Abraham got back together again. On the rainy evening of November 4, Reverend Charles Dresser married them in the Edwards' home. Abraham placed a gold wedding ring on her finger, and 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, from 1842-1844, for $4.00 a week.
The Globe Tavern, Springfield, Ill.

The couple's first child, Robert Todd Lincoln, was born on August 1 at the Globe Tavern, and he was named after Mary's father. After Robert's birth, Lincoln 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.") The family moved and rented a three-room frame cottage at 214 South Fourth Street in Springfield late in the year.

The Lincolns purchased (from Dr. Charles Dresser) a one-story house in Springfield for $1,500. It was located at the corner of Eighth and Jackson Streets, and this would prove to be the only house the Lincolns ever purchased.
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.

Mary and the children went to Washington, D.C., with Abraham, who was 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. (The Library of Congress occupies this site today.)

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, and she and the boys stayed in Springfield.

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.

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.

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

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

In September, the Lincolns traveled to New York. They toured New York City and revisited Niagara Falls and other points in the East.

During the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Mary did her "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.

Abraham was elected president in the fall election. On Election Day, when the outcome was inevitable (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, "Mary, Mary, we are elected."

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

Willie died in the White House on February 20. Mary was never quite the same again. She ceased social activities until the following 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. Frequently 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 fundraising efforts for the wounded. Helping comfort the soldiers, they helped comfort her broken heart over Willie's death.

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.

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

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

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, and Herndon claimed Ann Rutledge was the true love of Lincoln's life. Mary bought a home at 375 W. Washington Boulevard in Chicago for $17,000, and she moved out and rented it the following year.

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 1870. On September 24, 1868, Robert Lincoln married Mary Eunice Harlan.

Mrs. Lincoln vacationed in Scotland during July and August.

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

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.

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.

After her release from Bellevue, Mary went to Springfield to live with her sister, Elizabeth Edwards. On June 15, a second court hearing reversed the insanity ruling of the first one. Mary was now a free woman again, free to make her own decisions. On June 19, she wrote a letter to Robert in which she unleashed all the resentment she had harbored against him for a long time. 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.

Mary visited Marseilles, Naples, and Sorrento.

At age 60, in Pau, France, Mary fell from a stepladder and injured her spinal cord. In pain, she traveled to Nice, France.

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 actress Sarah Bernhardt, another passenger on the ship, saved her. When Sarah told her she might have died, 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.
Amerique, C.G.T. Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (French Line).

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. Catherine and then to New York. A doctor diagnosed her with kidney, eye, and spinal sclerosis. Some researchers feel she has had diabetes for years.

In January, Congress raised Mary's annual pension from $3,000 to $5,000. They also voted for a donation to Mary 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. Mary may have had a stroke. 

The next day, a Sunday, Mary passed away at 8:15 P.M. Thus, she died in the same home she was married in. Mary was still wearing her 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, with all of the family members except Robert. 

Robert died in 1926 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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