Mary Todd Lincoln In Collective Memory

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
I'm never sure what and how much to post about our Mary. There's an assumption folks already know so much it's ok to begin the conversation in the middle- or the end, or pick up any of the lengthy arguments still raging about the poor thing.

Mary Lincoln remains a controversial figure due to several things, a major one being a campaign of deliberate misinformation spread with intent by a rather vile social hanger on named William Herndon. Not only did he claim a relationship which was not there, he actually earned a living traveling the country giving lectures about Mary Lincoln- unspeakable lies, and added a book to this collection of nonsense. No, will not link the ridiculous thing. Professionals who should know better still cite this as ' source' when writing of Mary Lincoln.

Another was her unpardonable sin of being born Southern, something Washington elite never forgave her, indeed much of the country. Reading more deeply this seems to blend in as excusatory, and mixes with being Lincoln's ' country bumpkin ' wife who dared enter Washington's social circles. The women were vicious, froze Mary out, Kate Chase ruled Washington society. She and her ladies made it clear Mary was not welcome. Since Mary Todd Lincoln as ' well born ' as anyone in DC this was of course ridiculous- a high society clique mass bullying. Mary had come feeling certain she would be welcomed, instead was horribly, wrenchingly lonely.

Mary was also known to engage in charitable works, and quietly, with no entourage to notice her and praise her to others later. She determinedly visited the hospitals where wounded soldiers either died or they didn't-forbidding mention of it. The soldiers leaked it in gratitude. For some reason, probably because it made them look useless, this was also somehow used against Mary. She continued to visit her boys.

Despite the uproar on her family being Southern Mary Todd Lincoln insisted her newly widowed sister come stay at her home, the White House, while grieving. Boy did she take a hit for that as did her sister, called spy and traitor and suspected in a plot to murder her brother in law. Mary persisted, in times of crisis family mattered most. During her worst times later I have never been able to figure out where hers was.

We have threads on Mary Lincoln's life. I'll bump my last one. On another Mary Todd Lincoln kick, hoping to once again have flat History win over that jerk Herndon's despicable, grubby fingerprints all the heck all over Mary Lincoln's national memory. It'll be hard to extricate the real Mary from Herndon's Mary. SO many, many books on Mary Todd Lincoln have been written by people who may not know they've used Herndon based material as a source- that one man could do that much damage to one victim is incredible.

Mary's shopping addiction was quite real, to this day it is judged, not understood. " Oh that awful Mary Lincoln, running into debt, buying dress after dress, what a terrible person. " I say, like water from a damaged dam, pain finds a way to leak out of us.

She left us images of herself, from bright and hopeful, a little spoiled, full of spirit. Maybe melancholy- a little alone in a household with a mother not hers. There's the splendid position in Washington, pain of being starkly and so, so weirdly alone there, lost children, stubborn dignity, always, always lonely- always hurt, a matron.

Am including one of the funniest faux photos to hit the internet. Abe and Mary's hysterical ' Wedding Photo '. people LOVE it- taken from 2 very well known portraits this thing is spreading faster than oil on a backside at the beach. That's fast.

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Isn't she dear? Wearing a cameo!

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Time, loneliness, resignation, great dress, unhappy woman

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This must be Sprinfield?

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Still, not a happy woman.

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Mourning, and she had so much mourning.

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An eching, have never been clear if somewhere existed a photo similar, now lost to Time. We have this etching, quite large, original frame. My grgrgrandmother's.

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Mary Todd Lincoln, young, beautiful, poised, waiting for life to happen; not dreaming there would be anyone to mourn.

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This is better! Someone got a smile from her. bet it was her husband.

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Mary Todd Lincoln really was a woman of extraordinary grace and dignity. Considering how much she had to mourn this women faces life elegantly, contained, chin firm with a hint of defiance.

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Almost smiling, unless it is the dignity she developed as she got older. Mary seemed to wrap it around her like one of her expensive cloaks- hid her vulnerable self and pain from a censorious world.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
ml 24 fake.JPG

First, the hysterical ' wedding photo ' of Abe and Mary Lincoln. I'm sure 100% of our membership and 99.9% of browsers here know it is nonsense, there are no wedding photos of them. In the event the 1% of internet users who believe it bump into our forum- honest, this is a fake, promise. We do not know why anyone would invent it.

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Mourning, she had so many, do not know which death, poor thing

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Mary Todd Lincoln's mourning, one of far too many.


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Lovely Belle, Mary odd before the ' Lincoln '

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Enlarged from another photo

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With the children. Mary was an extremely hands-on mother.

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Very elderly, post- ' My son Robert stuck me in a mental institution, the schmuck '. Then someone made a fortune from Mary once again by producing and selling this horrendous photos. None of the money went to Mary.

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Maybe early white house years. Forgot to enlarge this, please excuse!
 

ole

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Near Kankakee
My assessment, Annie, is that she just wasn't quite up to being first lady with the conditions she found herself in. More to be pitied than scorned.
 
Joined
Aug 25, 2013
Location
Hannover, Germany
The wedding photo may be a fake, but to me it shows that these two really were a couple, a thing that, viewing each one by himself/herself, I never could fully imagine.
My favourite photo of Mary is #3, the one with the blue frame. To me she looks strong and defiant on this one. To be honest I find her not exactly beautiful, not even as a young woman, but on this one she has my respect.
 

ole

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Near Kankakee
The wedding photo may be a fake, but to me it shows that these two really were a couple, a thing that, viewing each one by himself/herself, I never could fully imagine.
My favourite photo of Mary is #3, the one with the blue frame. To me she looks strong and defiant on this one. To be honest I find her not exactly beautiful, not even as a young woman, but on this one she has my respect.
In those days, Andrea, a man had to have a woman to take care of him, and a woman had to have a man to take care of her.

You ought to see a picture of my ggmother. Ggfather was no prize, but she fell out of the ugly tree and hit all the branches on the way down. But a man needed a wife and the pickings were slim.in 1847. Fortunately, Mom's family were reasonably comely and overcame the severely ugly of their children.

Mary and Abe were a prime example of the necessity to hook up and reproduce.
 
Joined
Aug 25, 2013
Location
Hannover, Germany
In those days, Andrea, a man had to have a woman to take care of him, and a woman had to have a man to take care of her.

You ought to see a picture of my ggmother. Ggfather was no prize, but she fell out of the ugly tree and hit all the branches on the way down. But a man needed a wife and the pickings were slim.in 1847. Fortunately, Mom's family were reasonably comely and overcame the severely ugly of their children.

Mary and Abe were a prime example of the necessity to hook up and reproduce.

Ole, thank you for starting my afternoon with a big grin !! :D
And probably there is much truth in the sentence that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.
 

John Winn

Major
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
Another great collection of photos; thanks !

The subject of Mary Lincoln is one of those things I've changed my mind about from my early CW reading days. I used to think she was "crazy" or had some sort of personality disorder but have come to realize how much influence Herndon had on shaping our thoughts about her and have softened on my thoughts about some of her other quirks given the life events she faced. While I still perhaps don't see her as a strong person she has my sympathies and I think she has not been fairly remembered.
 

hanna260

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 1, 2015
Location
Just Around the Riverbend
I think Mary Lincoln should most definetely be given more credit for being a fascinating woman. It is very interesting to look at what attracted Lincoln and her together- before the death of her children and the rockiness of their later relationship. He was very awkward, while she had tons of suitors and was vivacious and full of life. Most interesting to me is that she was extraordinarily intelligent- does anyone ever really focus on that? That's actually what attracted Lincoln most strongly to her- she was very interested in politics, due to the visitors her very respected father had in their house such as Henry Clay I believe, and a very riveting conversationalist. Indeed, her interest was considered "un-ladylike" at the time. I wonder if some of the slander she endured during her lifetime was due to powerful men being uncomfortable with such a smart woman. Just food for thought.
 

GenDeb

Sergeant
Joined
Nov 28, 2012
Location
Middle Tennessee
I stand by my previous posts that I would love to see Ken Burns do a PBS show on her. My husband said he would prefer a series on all of the First Ladies...I wouldn't object to that either but I think MTL could stand on her own, considering the untruths and unknowns about her.
 

Private Watkins

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 12, 2014
Location
Oklahoma
Great post and appreciate everyone's comments... and I'll admit my shallow & distant perceptions of her have not been all that good, but I will also admit that I have likely been influenced by some of those common misperceptions/untruths you have discussed above.

So, my question, for my own edification, is what do you think were the main misrepresentations about her, by Herndon or others?

As a starting point, here are some of my common impressions:
  • I've never thought that her Southern roots had any real negative impact on her in the eyes of history; certainly no big deal to me...
  • Also, I certainly can understand how so much painful loss would be so difficult to deal with and could cause the best of us to break down, so her post-White House years are not an issue with me either.
  • What I'm left with, though, is a perception (or misperception...?) of her before & during the White House years as someone who was
    • Vain & overly proud
    • Petty & sometimes devious
    • Hot tempered & often hateful (to Abe)
    • Had a spending problem
    • Fundamentally insecure but extremely ambitious
I sincerely don't mean this as an attack or passing of judgment on her, and I am very empathetic with her given the trials she faced... she has my utmost sympathy. Rather, I'm putting myself out there as the "common ignoramous" (I'm not a professional historian) for you folks to give some education to, and help me understand which of my perceptions are way off because of propaganda (tossing you a softball here...), and which ones might have some truth to them (looking for objective & fair opinions). Also what are some additional things (like visiting the wounded) that we don't typically hear of that were favorable about her?

Thanks, and by the way the photos are awesome!!

(Also my apologies if this has been previously covered in another thread... just thought I'd use this one to try and learn some more about her.)
 
Last edited:

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
I stand by my previous posts that I would love to see Ken Burns do a PBS show on her. My husband said he would prefer a series on all of the First Ladies...I wouldn't object to that either but I think MTL could stand on her own, considering the untruths and unknowns about her.


Yes, ditto. She had so many enemies, a political pawn in a lot of ways that the wife of our murdered President never received a pension. It was vetoed. Whoa, what? Lincoln's time in office was never recognized by way of a pension to his widow and why? Someone plain, old disliked her. She was quite literally left alone in that big old house to ' get out ' after he was killed. No support from our country, none. I'm sure this is preaching to the choir, sorry! Makes me a little crazy this factoid is left out of an awful lot of ' bios' on Mary.

Part of the problem lay with Abe himself and their marriage. During the long, awful years of his depression this little woman, raised to a much softer lifestyle held together the household with 3 small children like a single parent. So 3 children and an almost absent husband who worried the stuffing out of her. Shrewish? Sure. No idea how to manage that level of responsibility alone, then a husband running for office? Again alone. Lincoln then found it easier to indulge Mary than have a discussion.

Yes, it would definitely stand on it's own, a documentary about Mary Todd Lincoln, what a super idea! There is almost nothing from their Springfield days together, what it must have been like raising 3 small children while your husband is suffering a dreadful depression, bills to pay, no interaction from the man you love, not understanding what on earh might be happening, no early training that covered anything like this. Can't imagine. The her time in Washington, the terrible hurt, and really, Lincoln had zero sympathy for her social woes Nice guy, had no clue, seemed to expect her to magically fit in with these women who loathed her on sight. Then her unnoticed ( to this day ) work with the wounded, her very real compassion kept very low key. Her very real pain a having lost children is completely discounted, too- History ( helped mightily by Herndon) expects this woman to have no reaction whatsoever to losing children.

LOVE to see this, thanks for the idea, be great to put a creative bug in his ear. :smile:
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
Great post and appreciate everyone's comments... and I'll admit my shallow & distant perceptions of her have not been all that good, but I will also admit that I have likely been influenced by some of those common misperceptions/untruths you have discussed above.

So, my question, for my own edification, is what do you think were the main misrepresentations about her, by Herndon or others?

As a starting point, here are some of my common impressions:
  • I've never thought that her Southern roots had any real negative impact on her in the eyes of history; certainly no big deal to me...
  • Also, I certainly can understand how so much painful loss would be so difficult to deal with and could cause the best of us to break down, so her post-White House years are not an issue with me either.
  • What I'm left with, though, is a perception (or misperception...?) of her before & during the White House years as someone who was
    • Vain & overly proud
    • Petty & sometimes devious
    • Hot tempered & often hateful (to Abe)
    • Had a spending problem
    • Fundamentally insecure but extremely ambitious
I sincerely don't mean this as an attack or passing of judgment on her, and I am very empathetic with her given the trials she faced... she has my utmost sympathy. Rather, I'm putting myself out there as the "common ignoramous" (I'm not a professional historian) for you folks to give some education to, and help me understand which of my perceptions are way off because of propaganda (tossing you a softball here...), and which ones might have some truth to them (looking for objective & fair opinions). Also what are some additional things (like visiting the wounded) that we don't typically hear of that were favorable about her?

Thanks, and by the way the photos are awesome!!

(Also my apologies if this has been previously covered in another thread... just thought I'd use this one to try and learn some more about her.)


No, fair questions. VERY lengthy to reply, will try some? One of Herndon's main lies ( and he filled lecture halls, something Robert Lincoln should have done something about in my opinion, this was his mother ) was how vilely unhappy the marriage was. It was not. These 2 people stood by each other through time which would have broken less strong bonds. She accepted, it seems, the limitations imposed on their family by Lincoln's dreadful depression, supporting him as he worked his long way through this time. I do not have the quotes in front of me but o harsh a critic as Keckley brings to light their teasing of each, the presents they gave each other, the terms of endearment used and their reliance on each other. Mary never forgave Keckley her book. It was indeed a rotten thing to have done but at least it left of with more inside information on the marriage than we have elsewhere.

Mary was indeed ' vain ' and spent money like water. There's no excuse but reason a plenty. This society she'd been launched into had rejected her extremely soundly, made her the butt of their joke and ridicule. Lambasting her in the press was a pastime- no source in front of me but pulling up an LoC newspaper would find one in 2 minutes. BUT- what Herndon fails to produce is the good press, reporters traveling to DC expecting to see this dreadful person and not finding her at all but a sweet, strong wife and mother. Plenty of thoe from era papers. No one is interested in the virues of Mray Lincoln, is the thing.

Her vanity seems to be competitive fashion vilified if you ask me. Thee society women who froze her out- and I mean completely, also ridiculed her for any, tiny hint he was the bumpkin they thought her. An old piece of lace, last year's slipper style, a fake rose spotted on her she'd worn 2 balls previously- it was that petty and nasty. Chick world stunk, hers included vastly wealthy women like Kate Chase. No, Mary should not have run up those horrendous bills. One woman who faults her for this. Elizabeth Keckley, if anyone notices, is also the woman who continually billed her for dresses she made and delivered to the White House.

I mean really! Where was the lesson in thrift when Keckley was accepting orders?

I don't think it's a fault in Mary to be insecure, is it?

Does she have to be ambitious, being wife to the President of the United States? If this is meant as a charge before Lincoln was elected well heck, this was American society 150 years ago, Everyone was ambitious. Everyone. It was incredibly cut throat and terribly ruthless. One of the more unfair aspects of this ‘ anti Mary Lincoln ‘ thing out there is that a lot of the negative charges laid on here ( like this one ) apply society-wide, you know?

Hot tempered and hateful to Abe, well, easier to allow his wife her extremes than it was to attempt moderation of behavior. Bet a bazillion bucks she was waiting for him to care enough to pull in the reins, too, which fueled the fire. He never did.


No, of course it did not come across like you were arguing- hope I do not come across that way! JMTL ( which works very well, thank you Gen Deb ) had a deliberate campaign against her, several, one of them in writing. Always has seemed dreadful, it’s carried over all these years, this coward of a man, picking on this tiny, little female, no one to defend her ( not even that wuss Robert ), and we still let him.
 
Joined
Aug 25, 2013
Location
Hannover, Germany
Great post and appreciate everyone's comments... and I'll admit my shallow & distant perceptions of her have not been all that good, but I will also admit that I have likely been influenced by some of those common misperceptions/untruths you have discussed above.

So, my question, for my own edification, is what do you think were the main misrepresentations about her, by Herndon or others?

As a starting point, here are some of my common impressions:
  • I've never thought that her Southern roots had any real negative impact on her in the eyes of history; certainly no big deal to me...
  • Also, I certainly can understand how so much painful loss would be so difficult to deal with and could cause the best of us to break down, so her post-White House years are not an issue with me either.
  • What I'm left with, though, is a perception (or misperception...?) of her before & during the White House years as someone who was
    • Vain & overly proud
    • Petty & sometimes devious
    • Hot tempered & often hateful (to Abe)
    • Had a spending problem
    • Fundamentally insecure but extremely ambitious
I sincerely don't mean this as an attack or passing of judgment on her, and I am very empathetic with her given the trials she faced... she has my utmost sympathy. Rather, I'm putting myself out there as the "common ignoramous" (I'm not a professional historian) for you folks to give some education to, and help me understand which of my perceptions are way off because of propaganda (tossing you a softball here...), and which ones might have some truth to them (looking for objective & fair opinions). Also what are some additional things (like visiting the wounded) that we don't typically hear of that were favorable about her?

Thanks, and by the way the photos are awesome!!

(Also my apologies if this has been previously covered in another thread... just thought I'd use this one to try and learn some more about her.)

Private Watkins, thank you for that post. Again I'm 100% in accordance with you!
I think while Mary was sure in some cases "mobbed" (to use that modern term) while she lived, she is sometimes now regarded as an angel, which sure is equally wrong. She most certainly had her flaws as every person has, and to me, I still think she had a bit more of them than her fair share. But after her death a brain tumor was discovered which could have been the cause of some of her eccentric behaviour.

This is a pretty interesting article from a doctor's unbiased view:
http://www.doctorsreview.com/history/nov06-history_medicine/

And yes, a documentary could help to cast a new light on her. I would love to see it made, either on her alone or -
like somebody said, on all first ladies.
 

donna

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
May 12, 2010
Location
Now Florida but always a Kentuckian
Mary Todd's educational background:

Mary Todd, later Lincoln, received a remarkable education for a young girl during this time period. She attended Shelby Female Academy (1826-1832). It was later known as Dr. Ward's Academy. She studied grammar, geography, arithmetic, poetry and literature.

She went to Madame Mestelle's Boarding School (1832-1837). Here she learned to speak and write French, penmanship, dancing, and singing.

She attended Dr. Wards Academy (1837-1839). Here she had advanced studies in cultural subjects.

As a young woman Mary developed a voracious interest in politics and political issues. In one of her letters she wrote about support for the Whig presidential candidate, William Henry Harrison. She also enjoyed reading the newspapers of the times. We also have to remember that Henry Clay was important friend of the Todd family and visited their home often.

She also was trained in the social graces of her time. This was important for someone of her family status. She also studied the works of Victor Hugo, Shakespeare and astronomy.
 
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