A Victim of 19th Century “Fake News”

Joined
Nov 26, 2016
Location
central NC
mary5d.jpg

(Photo courtesy of The Lehrman Institute)
On May 18, 1861, a newspaper account berated first lady Mary Todd Lincoln for allegedly behaving in a "shrewish manner" toward her husband. An unnamed reporter for the Humboldt Times, a California newspaper, attributed President Lincoln’s hollow cheeks, sunken eyes and woebegone expression in large measure to his wife’s purported caprices and persistent interference in affairs of state. (Personally, I tend to think the Civil War, which had broken out a month earlier, might have had a lot to do with President Lincoln’s troubled countenance.)

Quoting a report in the Sacramento Union, the Humboldt Times asserted that Mary had usurped her husband’s presidential duty of appointing certain federal offices. According to the newspaper article, Mary sought to help her overwhelmed husband deal with his deluge of office-seekers. In doing so, she took it upon herself to appoint a complete stranger whom she had met on a train to any office he desired.

It seems this lucky fellow, identified as Mr. W.S. Wood, told Mary that he would like to be named the superintendent of public buildings. However, unbeknownst to her, President Lincoln had already named someone else to that position. In what may well pass for a mid-19th-century version of “fake news,” the article went on to state that when Mary found out that Mr. Wood had been denied the job, “she assaulted her husband with such a tempest about his ears that he was forced to give Wood the position and dismiss his own choice, a friend from his hometown of Springfield, Illinois.”

The article in the Humboldt Times didn’t stop there, but rather went on to imply that perhaps Mary “had been smitten with Mr. Wood’s handsome features, luxuriant whiskers and graceful carriage.” The reporter noted accounts of Mary “dancing with Wood many times at the Inauguration Ball … and that she had succumbed to his charm and flattery.”

Historians have never been able to substantiate this accusation of Mary’s flirtation with Wood. Gee. I wonder why? @JPK Huson 1863, you're probably very familiar with this story, but it was new to me. It seems Mary Todd Lincoln got accused of everything!
 

nitrofd

Retired User
Joined
Jan 20, 2013
Location
north central florida
mary5d.jpg

(Photo courtesy of The Lehrman Institute)
On May 18, 1861, a newspaper account berated first lady Mary Todd Lincoln for allegedly behaving in a "shrewish manner" toward her husband. An unnamed reporter for the Humboldt Times, a California newspaper, attributed President Lincoln’s hollow cheeks, sunken eyes and woebegone expression in large measure to his wife’s purported caprices and persistent interference in affairs of state. (Personally, I tend to think the Civil War, which had broken out a month earlier, might have had a lot to do with President Lincoln’s troubled countenance.)

Quoting a report in the Sacramento Union, the Humboldt Times asserted that Mary had usurped her husband’s presidential duty of appointing certain federal offices. According to the newspaper article, Mary sought to help her overwhelmed husband deal with his deluge of office-seekers. In doing so, she took it upon herself to appoint a complete stranger whom she had met on a train to any office he desired.

It seems this lucky fellow, identified as Mr. W.S. Wood, told Mary that he would like to be named the superintendent of public buildings. However, unbeknownst to her, President Lincoln had already named someone else to that position. In what may well pass for a mid-19th-century version of “fake news,” the article went on to state that when Mary found out that Mr. Wood had been denied the job, “she assaulted her husband with such a tempest about his ears that he was forced to give Wood the position and dismiss his own choice, a friend from his hometown of Springfield, Illinois.”

The article in the Humboldt Times didn’t stop there, but rather went on to imply that perhaps Mary “had been smitten with Mr. Wood’s handsome features, luxuriant whiskers and graceful carriage.” The reporter noted accounts of Mary “dancing with Wood many times at the Inauguration Ball … and that she had succumbed to his charm and flattery.”

Historians have never been able to substantiate this accusation of Mary’s flirtation with Wood. Gee. I wonder why? @JPK Huson 1863, you're probably very familiar with this story, but it was new to me. It seems Mary Todd Lincoln got accused of everything!
Never heard this tale before,who know's could have happened.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
It was of course invented out of whole, moldy cloth. Mary was probably the most popular target of libel, slander and vilification in the era. A lot ( as one newspaper editor pointed out ) was a swarmy way to get at her husband. There was another salacious, highly libel story around that time all about Mary sending flowers to the wife of a sessessionist - OH the uproar, that sleezy Mary Lincoln. Real story was, the White House nursery provided flowers to the wives of senators, congressman, etc. as a matter of course for their social functions. Mrs. President, whomever it was, was the person in charge. Wife of senator known to express pro-South sympathies made the usual, official request for flowers, Mary complied and poof- she'd sent a bouquet to an enemy of the country on tax payer dollars.

I'm not sure Woods would have been invited to the ball- it was pretty exclusive. Somewhere I have articles covering the ball, who danced with who, who was there, what everyone wore, what the band played. Lists including who Mary danced with do not mention him. In fact, the whole topic of poor Mary Todd Lincoln having an affair is just silly- one, more swipe at a defenseless female no academic would take seriously. Doesn't quite qualify as fake news, being genuinely erroneous.


attributed President Lincoln’s hollow cheeks, sunken eyes and woebegone expression in large measure to his wife’s purported caprices and persistent interference in affairs of state


But but but- that was Lincoln's face, the one he was given at birth. Genetics, not his wife. It's the only thing the article got right.
 

Yankee Brooke

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Jun 8, 2018
Location
PA
Even in the 1860's they slandered the President and his family..... despite what many will have you believe, it is by far not a new thing.
 

Northern Light

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Jul 21, 2014
Although not apropos to this site it might be interesting to read of the treatment of other 1st Ladies. I know many modern ones have been criticized for various things, and Dolly Madison was by times considered shocking. Varina Davis also came in for a far share of nastiness as well.
 
Joined
Nov 26, 2016
Location
central NC
Although not apropos to this site it might be interesting to read of the treatment of other 1st Ladies. I know many modern ones have been criticized for various things, and Dolly Madison was by times considered shocking. Varina Davis also came in for a far share of nastiness as well.

That would make for some fascinating reading. Maybe we could take a look at the 19th century first ladies. Want to start a thread? :whistling: I bet @JPK Huson 1863 already has a lot of information gathered. :smile:
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
That would make for some fascinating reading. Maybe we could take a look at the 19th century first ladies. Want to start a thread? :whistling: I bet @JPK Huson 1863 already has a lot of information gathered. :smile:

OH good Heavens, could name a roomful from the top of my head. Oddly, they allowed Julia her dignity- may have been because Grant would have punched anyone in the head, who picked on her. Been beating that ridiculous drum for awhile. Women took it in the neck, especially those attached to famous men. @Northern Light , yes, wasn't it shameful? Like the Lincolns, the Davis's lost a child while in office, but nope, they wouldn't allow her peace.

It's a shameful litany. Mary Todd, Mary Custis Randolph, Varina- those are the names with which we're familiar. There's more, be sure.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
Even in the 1860's they slandered the President and his family..... despite what many will have you believe, it is by far not a new thing.


Yes, back to George and Martha, they were fair game. Can you imagine picking on our Martha? Heck, found some swipes taken at Harriet Lane and her uncle, implication being she wasn't really his niece.
 

Northern Light

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Jul 21, 2014
OH good Heavens, could name a roomful from the top of my head. Oddly, they allowed Julia her dignity- may have been because Grant would have punched anyone in the head, who picked on her. Been beating that ridiculous drum for awhile. Women took it in the neck, especially those attached to famous men. @Northern Light , yes, wasn't it shameful? Like the Lincolns, the Davis's lost a child while in office, but nope, they wouldn't allow her peace.

It's a shameful litany. Mary Todd, Mary Custis Randolph, Varina- those are the names with which we're familiar. There's more, be sure.
Isn't odd how society feels so free to criticize "celebrity" women?
This video might be interesting. It is only a trailer, I don't have time today to look for the actual video.
It has to be more objective than this one.
 
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