Mary Todd Lincoln: How Many Mourning Dresses?

Mike Serpa

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How many mourning dresses had Mrs. Lincoln? Which did she wear to her husband's funeral? Not quite sure how long the mourning period was but I assume a woman might wear more than one dress during during her time of grief. Three of her sons died at young age. Would she a different dress to each funeral? Wear the same dress the entire time? Etc.

The first photo shows her in a dress I associate with the President's mourning.
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"Mary Lincoln in mourning attire" - LOC. Note: Title devised by Library staff.


The skirt is said to have been worn when son Willie died and when the President died.
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Mary Todd Lincoln's Mourning Skirt. Black silk skirt with flounces and ribbon ties, said (when exhibited in 1934) to have been Mrs. Lincoln's "second" mourning dress; a later identification label by Dr. Lattimer says she wore this both when her son Willie died in the White House in 1862 and again in 1865 after her husband was murdered. Mrs. Lincoln gave this dress to her friend Mrs. James H. Knowlton of Chicago. Somewhat faded; scattered rents and losses (mostly about the waist) but surprisingly good, considering its age and fragile materials. Lined with cotton fabric, apparently at a later date, for preservation. Sold for $5,975.00 in 2008. - HA


This one is Mary Todd Lincoln: Silk Mourning Dress
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lf-2.jpeg

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Mary Todd Lincoln: Silk Mourning Dress Ensemble. Four components of a mourning dress owned and worn by Mary Todd Lincoln. These include: 1) a silk corset. 2) a 38" cotton petticoat. 3) a 30" cotton petticoat with lace trim at bottom. 4) a 57" black silk dress with four round buttons on each cuff, sewn-on belt and overall pattern of leaves.

Mary Todd Lincoln spent much of her adult life in mourning, having three sons and a husband precede her in death. She was often photographed in mourning attire. This ensemble is part of a group of Mary Todd Lincoln items retained by the Fowler Family of Chicago. Mrs. Fowler was a neighbor and friend of the First Lady, receiving letters and mementoes from her, many of which are offered in this sale. We include a copy of a 20th century partial inventory and Letter of Provenance from a Fowler Family member which refers to this item ("dress"). Sold for $100,000 in 2026. - HA

What are you thought on these items? I think the first dress is drab and one I identify as more of a mourning dress than the fancier dress in the second and third photos. As long as a dress was black would it fit the bill? Post any photos you have of her in a mourning dress.


Extra super special bonus photo!
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Mary Todd Lincoln's Black Lace Veil, worn on the night of the assassination, together with an authenticating note signed by Elizabeth Keckly, her noted black dressmaker, friend and confidante. Upon leaving Washington in May 1865 Mary Lincoln distributed personal mementoes of herself and her husband to a number of friends and favored staff; she gave the earrings, bonnet and cloak that she had worn to Ford's Theatre to Mrs. Keckly, a former slave whose book Behind the Scenes (1868) furnishes an invaluable glimpse into the Lincoln White House. Mrs. Keckly kept her various Lincoln relics until 1890, when she sold them to Charles F. Gunther. Present here is the bonnet veil, measuring about 18" x 26", woven in an intricate blossom and floral motif with a perimeter of undulating interwoven lines; it is slightly frayed in a few spots along the border, resulting in some small losses and loosened thread, but is otherwise remarkably well preserved considering its delicate nature and age. The veil is accompanied by an extraordinarily rare autograph of Elizabeth Keckly, signed to a small authenticating note (the text in an unidentified hand; no place or date) which reads "This veil was worn the night of A. Lincoln assassination by Mrs. Lincoln". A superior Lincoln relic, with an impeccable and distinguished history of ownership. Sold for $52,281.25 in 2008. - HA
 

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JPK Huson 1863

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Yes, there's no answer to that but thanks for collecting these. The thing is, for each death she'd have had several, poor thing. Someone of her status probably followed fashion dictates. There were morning dresses. ' walking ' dresses, carriage dress, etc.

I've never been sure this one wasn't mourning attire for someone she lost- it's the same image someone used to create her ' wedding photo ' we see all the heck all over the internet ( so far there isn't one ). There's a lot of dark net/lace and a cameo on black.
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Taken after Willie's death.

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It's a little hard to look at her eyes here. Pain.
 

LoyaltyOfDogs

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If I remember correctly from a biography I read long ago, Mrs. Lincoln did indeed wear black for the rest of her life. The question what did she wear to the President's funeral is a good one, but the answer, I think, is that because she remained in seclusion for a long period after the assassination, she did not actually attend any of his funerals.
 
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If I remember correctly from a biography I read long ago, Mrs. Lincoln did indeed wear black for the rest of her life. The question what did she wear to the President's funeral is a good one, but the answer, I think, is that because she remained in seclusion for a long period after the assassination, she did not actually attend any of his funerals.
I read that she didn’t attend President Lincoln’s funeral. She was too overcome with grief to attend.
 

LoyaltyOfDogs

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Thanks for the comments. Not attending his funeral because of grief. I wonder if the shock of witnessing his brutal murder might have been a cause, also.
I think so too, @Mike Serpa, the tremendous shock likely would have kept her at home. And Secretary Stanton's gruff treatment in barring her from her husband's bedside at the Petersen House probably added to the trauma she experienced.
 

Lubliner

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That first auction photo makes the skirt look in bad condition; they say the opposite. To me, it looks as though it was packed away without proper folding, thus reducing whatever strength was in the material to fragility. The question was posed on what my thoughts were. The other articles (garments) were superb.
Lubliner.
 
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I wasn’t aware of this. However, I read that she didn’t attend Willie’s burial either.
Just typing this, I realized that several of the key people, including but not limited to the Lincolns, the Davises, the Longstreets, Andrew Johnson, etc, tragically lost minor children during the war from non-battle-related causes. Lee lost an adult daughter and young grandchildren during the war. (And of course, less privileged families also lost young children during the war.)
 

JPK Huson 1863

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I think so too, @Mike Serpa, the tremendous shock likely would have kept her at home. And Secretary Stanton's gruff treatment in barring her from her husband's bedside at the Petersen House probably added to the trauma she experienced.

I ' think ' she was bed bound at the time. Keckley writes that she tried to reach her but was barred. Rats, can't remember from the top of my head which friend was sent to her- one of the general's wives who spoke of her condition with great sympathy. 5 days I think she couldn't stayed in bed, unable to face the world.

I'd heard women didn't attend funerals too. This may be some other instance, like a pre-funeral observance and not the ceremony itself. Women and a child in pews, maybe before a funeral?
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Have a feeling Mike Serpa is right. I'm not sure there's as much acknowledgement of what it had to have been like for Mary to be holding her husband's hand one second, and the sheer violence of what happened next. I've always wanted to dig old Stanton up and slap him for his treatment of her- who wouldn't be in hysterics?
 

Mrs. V

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I have a soft place in my heart for Mary. No parent should have to bury a child, even in this day and age. Then to see your husband gunned down? I bet now Mary would be diagnosed with PTSD and rightly so. Intelligent, witty, in a day where you were not supposed to be too bright? *shudder*. I still think, with what little I know about her, that she was very shabbily treated indeed. But that is for a different thread!

As to her dresses. Oh gosh, she probably had one for every change of the day. And specialty ones for being seen in the broader public. The picture of the skirt pains me. Obviously wadded into a ball and stored. Ahh! I would not do that with a modern piece! Hard to even see the excellent construction, or the details with all that wrinkling.
 


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