A photograph of an undated daguerreotype of first lady Mary Todd Lincoln. (Library of Congress/AP)
She was an ambitious and polarizing first lady who was scorned by her enemies as “gross,” “avaricious,” a “she wolf” and “cold as a chunk of ice,” slammed after leaving the White House for basic “unloveableness,” and sarcastically derided in a 2012 tweet as “such a b----.” If the name Hillary — or, for that matter, Michelle or Nancy — is dancing on your lips, then cast your gaze back, 150 years ago, to Mary.
Mary Todd Lincoln, to be clear, whose arraignment in the court of mid-19th-century public opinion enrolls her in a vexed sorority with today’s first ladies and female politicians. Her example reminds us, in case we needed reminding, that America has never known quite what to do with women who enter the public sphere.
It was Mary’s particular misfortune to be the woman to one particular man. Indeed, of all the mysteries that have enveloped Abraham Lincoln, his choice of a life mate has been...
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