A Friendship Blooms through Depths of Gloom


Sergeant Major
Aug 6, 2016

Mary Jane Hale Welles
June 12, 1817 - February 28, 1886

(Photo Public Domain)

Mary Jane Hale was born June 12th, 1817 in Lewiston, Maine. She was the daughter of Elias W. Hale who came from a prominent Glastonbury, Connecticut family. Her father was an attorney in Lewiston and at the age of 14 he passed away, leaving her mother Jane and her siblings behind ranging in age from 20-8.

In 1835 when Mary Jane was 18 years of age she wed her 1st cousin, Gideon Welles who was 33 at the time of their wedding. He was born in Glastonbury, Connecticut and they made their home there.

Tragedy was never far away for the Welles. Mary Jane birthed 9 children. 2 sons died within a year of birth and one of those sons, Herbert born August, 1852 died August 20, 1853 from diphtheria. Sadly for the Welles his 18 year old sister Anna died April 10, 1854 at 17, only 8 months after her brother. This must have been a most difficult heartbreaking year for the Welles.

3 children died within 10 years of their births. An adult son John died at age 36 on November 8, 1885, and Mary Jane followed on February 28, 1886 at 68 years of age. Only Edgar and Thomas lived longer than their parents - Edgar died in 1914 at age 70 and Thomas died in 1892 at 45. Gideon, Mary Ann and their children all are buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery, in Hartford, Connecticut.

Within A Mother’s Pain, A Friendship Is Gained
In March, 1861 President Lincoln selected Gideon Welles to serve as his Secretary of Navy so the Welles family moved to Washington. Mary Jane would become a close friend and confident to the “other” Washington Mary - Mary Todd Lincoln


Mary Todd Lincoln
December 13, 1818 – July 16, 1882

(Photo - Public Domain)

February, 1862 - When Mary Jane Welles, arrived in Washington there was one area in life she was unfortunately experienced in - children and death, as she had already buried 5 of her 9 children.

Through her husband’s cabinet position, she meets Mary Todd Lincoln. For Mrs. Lincoln losing a child is also a shared experienced. In 1850, Mary Lincoln lost her 3 year old son Edward, and in February 1862, the Lincoln’s are watching helplessly as their younger 2 sons fight for their lives. Mary Jane at 44 and Mary Lincoln at 43 share more than losing children, as they had lost their father at a tender age, When February of 1862 arrives, Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Welles would come together and their friendship would deepen as they both struggle through this year.

Willie (11) and Tad (9) have contracted typhoid fever but as First Lady Mary had many responsibilities to fill especially while the country was at war. Aware of this, President Lincoln called upon the wife of his cabinet member and Mrs. Welles answered willingly his request to support his wife. Mary Jane actually moved into the White House to help, such was her love and devotion to Mary and her children. When Willie passed away she continued to stay until Tad was our of danger.

Mrs. Lincoln turned to her friend Mary Jane Welles, although, there were times that she never understood Mary Jane’s comforting words to her that she would see her children again in heaven. As Doris Kearns Goodwin writes a in her book “Team of Rivals” - - -

“Nor could she (Mrs. Lincoln) fully accept the comfort Mary Janes Welles found in the belief that her children awaited her in heaven. If only she had faith that Willie was ‘far happier’ in an afterlife than he had been ‘when on earth,’ Mary suggested to Mary Jane, she might accept his loss.” {4}

But the Mary’s did what they could to comfort each other through the pain. For the Welles, before the end of the year, they would say good bye to another child, Hubert born May 29th, 1853 died from an unknown illness (today some say diphtheria) on November 18th, 1862 at 9 years of age.

With Their Motherly Heart - They Quietly Served

The Marys helped other mothers when they visited the military hospitals in the Washington area. They always turned their thoughts and deeds to mothers, as they tended their injured sons, or suffered in the pain of saying goodbye to “their little boys”. They wrote letters for soldiers who were too weak to write for themselves, distributed gifts, and were “mothers” for those soldiers as they healed. It was said that Mrs. Welles was the “ideal companion” for Mrs. Lincoln as she provided stability for the sometimes “volatile and impulsive” First Lady.

A Mother Never Forgets

Mary Lincoln and Mary Jane Welles birthed, mothered and loved 13 children between them. Each lady would have 1 one more child to lay to rest before they would be called home to join their children that awaited them. 10 of the 13 had passed away with only Robert Lincoln, Edgar & Thomas Welles left.

The Lincoln Children

Robert Todd (1843-1926)
Edward Baker (1846-1850)
William Wallace (1850-1862)
Thomas “Tad” (1853-1871)

The Welles & Their Children

Gideon (1802-1878) & Mary Jane (1817-1886)
Anna Jane (1836-1854)
Samuel (1838-1839)
Edward Gideon (1840-1843)
Edgar Thaddeus (1841-1914)
Thomas Gideon (1846-1892)
John Arthur (1849-1885)
Herbert (1852-1853)
Hubert (1853-1862)
Mary Juanita (1854-1858)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

5 days after “Eddie’s” funeral - the following poem appeared in the “Illinois Daily Journal”, a fitting poem to end this thread - in remembrance of all the Mary’s that are left to carry their babies is their hearts. - - -

"Little Eddie"

Those midnight stars are sadly dimmed,
That late so brilliantly shone,
And the crimson tinge from cheek and lip,
With the heart's warm life has flown—
The angel death was hovering nigh,
And the lovely boy was called to die.

The silken waves of his glossy hair
Lie still over his marble brow,
And the pallid lip and pearly cheek
The presence of Death avow.
Pure little bud in kindness given,
In mercy taken to bloom in heaven.

Happier far is the angel child
With the harp and the crown of gold,
Who warbles now at the Saviour's feet
The glories to us untold.
Eddie, meet blossom of heavenly love,
Dwells in the spirit-world above.

Angel boy—fare thee well, farewell
Sweet Eddie, we bid thee adieu!
Affection's wail cannot reach thee now
Deep though it be, and true.
Bright is the home to him now given,
For "of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Author Unknown {3}

1. https://connecticuthistory.org/gideon-welles-us-secretary-of-the-navy-and-lincolns-neptune/
2. http://www.hartfordinfo.org/issues/documents/history/htfd_courant_020809.asp
3. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jala/2...y-mystery-little-eddie?rgn=main;view=fulltext
4. “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin
5. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/13680039/mary-jane-welles

***I tried to keep this thread strictly to their bond as grieving mothers. As a postscript I will add - Mary Jane Welles was the only cabinet wife that Mary Lincoln requested to be at her side at the Peterson House for the death watch over President Lincoln. Mary Jane was actually in her sick bed, but went to her friend to give comfort. The Welles were helpful to Mary in the days following the president’s death as the former First Lady leaned on them for help in the transition that needed to be made during those difficult months.

After the death of President Lincoln, Gideon Welles served as Secretary of the Navy until March, 4, 1869. He and Mary Jane retired to Glastonbury, Connecticut where he continued writing books. He died in 1878 at 75. Although they would live to see grandchildren, unfortunately, only 1 of their 5 grandchildren would live to be an adult, Alice, daughter of Edgar, died when she was 78 in 1959. Mary Lincoln and Mary Jane Welles, for a time continued to correspond, but distance and circumstances would make letters few and far between.

Ole Miss

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Regtl. Staff Shiloh 2020
Dec 9, 2017
North Mississippi
What a story of two women aiding each other through unimaginable tragedies. They had to be incredibly resilient women to have endured such heartaches. No wonder Mary Todd Lincoln was desperately hanging on to her sanity late in her life. She had endured so much loss with little assistance and support from others.


Sergeant Major
Aug 6, 2016
When I saw Mary Jane's tragic history with her beloved children and then her "unashamed" friendship to a woman everyone loves to hate, I just grew to admire both of them. When you see the list of children they lost, it truly is heartbreaking.