Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Birth Dates of Notable Kentuckians: December 13, 1818 – Mary Todd Lincoln


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From The Kentucky Encyclopedia –
Born in Lexington, Kentucky, on December 13, 1818, Mary (Todd) Lincoln, first lady of the United States, was descended from two of central Kentucky's best-known families -- the Todds and the Parkers. Her grandfather, Levi Todd , had been instrumental in the establishment of Lexington. Her father, Robert Smith Todd, was a prosperous cotton merchant, businessman, and Whig politician. Her mother, Eliza (Parker) Todd, died in childbirth when Mary Todd was six. Shortly thereafter her father married Elizabeth Humphreys, of Frankfort, Kentucky. Mary lived with them and their children in a brick house on West Main Street in Lexington. As a girl Mary attended John Ward's school in Lexington and then Charlotte Mentelle's boarding school, across from Henry Clay 's estate, Ashland. Her twelve years in school made her one of the best- educated women of her era.

In 1839 Mary Todd followed her older sisters to Springfield, Illinois, where she lived in her sister Elizabeth Edwards's home. In November 1842 she married
Abraham Lincoln, then a lawyer who had three times won election to the state legislature. They had four sons, Robert Todd, Edward, William, and Thomas (Tad). Mary Lincoln lived the typical domestic life of a nineteenth century middle-class woman, though she maintained an unusual interest in politics and in her husband's career as a politician. Her great expectations for her husband were realized when, after two unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. Senate, he was elected president of the United States in November 1860.

During Mary Lincoln's four years in the White House (1861-65) she worked hard to turn it into a fashionable mansion worthy of her husband, herself, and the nation. But the
Civil War made these efforts seem frivolous. Throughout the war she was often attacked in the newspapers for her extravagance and for her supposed Confederate allegiance, especially after it was reported that three of her Kentucky half-brothers were fighting with the Confederate army. In 1863 she took in her beloved half-sister, Emilie (Todd) Helm, widow of Confederate Gen. Benjamin Hardin Helm , who had been killed at Chickamauga. At the White House, Emilie's presence reinforced the suspicion that Mary Lincoln was a Confederate sympathizer. In fact the first lady (she was the first to be called that) was a staunch Unionist who, like many other women during the war, visited hospitals to comfort the wounded and raised money for the war effort. After the death of her son Willie in 1862, a distraught Mary Lincoln often sought comfort among spiritualists, who she believed could return her two dead sons to her in seances.

On April 14, 1865, five days after Lee surrendered,
President Lincoln was assassinated. As a widow Mary Lincoln struggled financially. Though she eventually received $36,000 from her husband's estate, she fought for a pension. Increasingly restless, she traveled with Tad to Europe. In 1871 she received another devastating blow when Tad died of pleurisy. In 1875 her only surviving son, Robert, committed her to a private asylum for the insane, but she struggled for freedom and after three months was released. Fearing that Robert would continue to threaten her for behavior that was bizarre but not deranged, Mary Lincoln lived in Pau, France, from 1878 to 1882. Only when her health made it necessary did she return to her sister's home in Springfield, Illinois. There she died on July 16, 1882, and was buried in the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield. 

JEAN H. BAKER, Entry Author 

Selected Sources from UK Libraries:

Baker, Jean H. Mary Todd Lincoln : A Biography. 1st ed. New York: Norton, 1987. Print.
B L639ba 1987, Special Collections Research Center - Biography Collection

Helm, Emily Todd. Mary Todd Lincoln : Reminiscences and Letters of the Wife of President Lincoln. 1898. Print.
B L639he 1898, Special Collections Research Center - Biography Collection

Williams, Frank J., and Michael Burkhimer. The Mary Lincoln Enigma : Historians on America's Most Controversial First Lady. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2012. Print.
E457.25.L55 M37 2012, Young Library - 4th Floor

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