When Mary Todd Lincoln’s Son Had Her Declared Insane

Belle Montgomery

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Mary Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s surviving wife, was declared insane after a case brought by her son Robert. But she was determined to escape the institution she was placed in.

Updated Aug. 03, 2020 5:00AM ET / Published Aug. 02, 2020 5:10AM ET
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One can imagine the flurry of preparations Dr. Richard J. Patterson, his wife, and their staff of nurses undertook in late May of 1875 when they received news that they were about to admit their most important patient to date.
The doctor had dedicated the last decade of his life to building a sanitarium that embodied his progressive mental health philosophy.
Decades before Nellie Bly’s infamous 1887 exposé Ten Days in a Mad-House would shine a light on the horrors occurring at one New York insane asylum, Patterson was developing a treatment plan based on “rest, diet, baths, fresh air, occupation, diversion, change of scene, no more medicine than… absolutely necessary, and the least restraint possible” for his patients struggling with mental health maladies.
His compassionate approach was only offered to “a select class of lady patients of quiet unexceptionable habits.” But even within the high-class clientele treated at Bellevue Place, the former school-turned-asylum that had opened its doors in 1867, none of the patients had reached the caliber of the woman who was about to be forcibly checked in.
Mary Todd Lincoln, the former first lady of the United States of America, the widow of the assassinated president who had forever changed the country, had just been declared insane in a Chicago court of law following a case brought by her son Robert. She was to be moved to Bellevue without delay.
What was surely a monumental day for Patterson—the chance to provide treatment and relief to such an important woman who had faced almost unimaginable tragedy in her life—would sour months later when Mary would lead a campaign to free herself from the gentle confines of his care. With her release came the end of the final eventful episodes in the life of one of the most fascinating first ladies in history.


“It’s hard to criticize her delusions when so many of her fears came true”
For over a century, historians and medical professionals have debated the exact nature of Mary’s troubles. While theories have included everything from migraines and epileptic disorder to paranoid psychosis and spinal-chord disease, most agree that her problems were more severe than that most scandalous of 19th-century conditions: being a difficult woman.
Evidence of Mary’s erratic behavior can be traced back to her youth, and Jason Emerson, a journalist and Lincoln historian who wrote The Madness of Mary Lincoln, told The Daily Beast he found a history of mental illness in 14 members of the Todd family.


“For the first few years, particularly, she thought she was a queen. She thought she was better than everybody. And she treated everybody that way.”
— Jason Emerson
As Mary grew older and married a man who became increasingly famous, tales of her bad behavior began to swirl. While some of the rumors can be chalked up to malicious gossip—Mary was a...
Rest of Article: https://www.thedailybeast.com/when-mary-todd-lincolns-son-had-her-declared-insane
 
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I feel rather sorry for Robert who is often critized for merely do what he thought best for his mother, when she travels half way across the country to see him based on a delusion of hers, then relates conspiracy theories or delusional threats to herself, it seem rather obvious she needed help and probally shouldn't be left unsupervised

And who knows how many previous episodes and events he had witnessed, before finally taking action to protect her.

My mom had mental issues in her last year's, it's a difficult decision to make when one realizes they can't continue to do nothing.
 
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Mrs. V

2nd Lieutenant
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May 5, 2017
I feel rather sorry for Robert who is often critized for merely do what he thought best for his mother, when she travels half way across the country to see him based on a delusion of hers, then relates conspiracy theories or delusional threats to herself, it seem rather obvious she needed help and probally shouldn't be left unsupervised

And who knows how many previous episodes and events he had witnessed, before finally taking action to protect her.

My mom had mental issues in her last year's, it's a difficult decision to make when one realizes they can't continue to do nothing.
I don‘t know if it was a delusion per se but really a fear that her last child would come to harm, and leave her bereft of kin. I know the fear that your child won’t survive. It’s awful and it never leaves you. I am sure Robert just didn’t know how to deal with her fear, and what we would now chalk up to PTSD..I think he thought he was doing the best he could by her. I don’t know if she would have accepted a minder..someone who was sympathetic, and could redirect her when she was having issues. Like the article says, she was a strong willed woman, and that was not acceptable at the time. She got short shrift after Abe’s death..no pension, no provisions, just pack yourself up and leave. I think she was treated shamefully. The sad thing is, it would have raised no eyebrows back in the day.
 
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The article didn't conclude she was simply strong willed.......it concluded she indeed had issues.......As experts of the period, and of modern times have concluded.

A trip to check on a child is one thing......claiming people were trying to poison you on the train is quite another, as would be hearing and talking to voices in walls or floors...
 
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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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*Sigh*.

' Found history of mental illness in 14 members of the Todd family ' . I'm sorry but that seems sheer nonsense. How frequently have we deplored the diagnosing of people from the distance of 150 years? Plus, when Mary gets slaughtered on paper no one questions the sanity of the family members who contribute- they must be the Todds who avoided the family taint? The Todds were southern aristocrats and a very high profile family-where has anyone ever read or heard of the Todds being notorious for mental illness?

Hysteria, crazy, she's insane- been an accusation hurled against women since Day 1 and it hasn't gone anywhere. Mary was a Southern woman who married the enemiest enemy of them all, the south never forgave her. The north never accepted her. She'd already lost a child by the time she moved to DC and picked up her very own stalker in the form of William Herndon aka, the man Lincoln forgot to punch in the head. Lost another child while her husband was in office, lost brothers and brothers in the war and let's see, wore her husband's brains in her lap. Was a handy target for made-up scandal because it was easier than getting to her husband and actually has to tell friends not to stick up for her or they would get it in the neck, too. Then lost yet ANOTHER child.

Sad, alone, endlessly grieving, hounded- forced to live in the public eye when all she wished was to escape it. But ohhhhh no, her final indignity would be her only surviving kid makes a public spectacle of her sanity? For all this determined inspection of Mary Todd Lincoln's sanity let's remember she was also declared sane and won her case. And why? Because her doctors what, cheated? That there are still people insisting we look upon this tragic figure as somehow ' less than ' or worse, ' crazy ' makes me ill.

Mary actually looked forward to death. You could see why. If ever a woman was hounded from the planet it was Mary Todd Lincoln, may she still be resting in all the Peace eternity provides.
 
Joined
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mo
*Sigh*.

' Found history of mental illness in 14 members of the Todd family ' . I'm sorry but that seems sheer nonsense. How frequently have we deplored the diagnosing of people from the distance of 150 years? Plus, when Mary gets slaughtered on paper no one questions the sanity of the family members who contribute- they must be the Todds who avoided the family taint? The Todds were southern aristocrats and a very high profile family-where has anyone ever read or heard of the Todds being notorious for mental illness?

Hysteria, crazy, she's insane- been an accusation hurled against women since Day 1 and it hasn't gone anywhere. Mary was a Southern woman who married the enemiest enemy of them all, the south never forgave her. The north never accepted her. She'd already lost a child by the time she moved to DC and picked up her very own stalker in the form of William Herndon aka, the man Lincoln forgot to punch in the head. Lost another child while her husband was in office, lost brothers and brothers in the war and let's see, wore her husband's brains in her lap. Was a handy target for made-up scandal because it was easier than getting to her husband and actually has to tell friends not to stick up for her or they would get it in the neck, too. Then lost yet ANOTHER child.

Sad, alone, endlessly grieving, hounded- forced to live in the public eye when all she wished was to escape it. But ohhhhh no, her final indignity would be her only surviving kid makes a public spectacle of her sanity? For all this determined inspection of Mary Todd Lincoln's sanity let's remember she was also declared sane and won her case. And why? Because her doctors what, cheated? That there are still people insisting we look upon this tragic figure as somehow ' less than ' or worse, ' crazy ' makes me ill.

Mary actually looked forward to death. You could see why. If ever a woman was hounded from the planet it was Mary Todd Lincoln, may she still be resting in all the Peace eternity provides.
It's sad people still today try to equate someone having or admitting someone had mental issues as "less then" or "crazy"......

I'm sorry but as one who has experienced clinical depression in a loved one, to try to suggest it's something that should be ignored by loved ones when it reached a point they have become delusional.....seems a bit irresponsible.

A mental illness is not ussually "crazy"..........but when it's starting to cause them to detach from reality, one hopes someone intervenes.

I've always thought it odd her depression and issues make her a sympathetic figure..........but it doesn't remove the depression and issues.....

Again it's sad a son is second guessed for doing what he thought would be best for his mother........experts then, and still today believe she had real illnesses.
 
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Mango Hill

Corporal
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Jul 23, 2020
MTL's story is a sad one indeed. Getting back to a less somber conversation. I've seen two films that I can remember best in which MTL play's a prominent part, and in both the most pronounced feature of her character is her emotional distress. In Lincoln Sally Fields does a magnificent job of (at least me) playing the role of a seriously disturbed person who fits the idiom Albatross around the neck of poor Mr. Lincoln. The other is a TV mini-series - also titled Lincoln - in which Mary Tyler Moore's role as MTL is portrayed in a less emotionally disturbed role and even includes scenes were MTL is portrayed as having enough common sense to figure out which military strategy would best suit the occasion. I liked that MTL better than the Sally Fields version.
 

Mrs. V

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
May 5, 2017
I have to say that I think Mary Todd suffered from Post partum depression, and then just not being able to effectively grieve the losses of her children, and then her husband. She was strong willed , and in the day this was not really allowed. And she was smart, how dare she?? The Washington biddies didn’t like her, as she would not cowtow to them. She had no desire to be schooled by them, and they launched a campaign against her, that today we would call bullying..Yes, Mary Todd had issues. However, she was never “insane”. But she was surely ill treated.
 

Peace Society

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Ark Mo line
No one seemed to have noticed it was the 10th anniversary of her husband's murder.
The way she was raised - as a southern aristocrat accustomed to getting her own way - did not help her deal with issues that went against her. She never seemed to develop a character that would help her weather storms.
 
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