Mary Todd Lincoln was born December 13, 1818, in Lexington, Kentucky. She was the first lady of the United States from 1861 to 1865, while her husband Abraham Lincoln served as the 16th president. Happy and energetic in her youth, she suffered subsequent ill health and personal tragedies—including the death of her husband and three of her children—and behaved erratically in her later years. She died on July 16, 1882, in Springfield, Illinois.
Mary Todd Lincoln's Early Life
Born Mary Ann Todd on December 13, 1818, in Lexington, Kentucky. Born to a prominent slaveholding family, Mary Todd Lincoln was raised primarily by her strict stepmother. The well-to-do Mary Todd had many suitors (including Abraham Lincoln’s future political rival, Stephen Douglas). In 1839, she left home to be near her sister Elizabeth in Springfield, Illinois, where she met up-and-coming politician and lawyer Abraham Lincoln. They married on November 4, 1842, and nine months later, their first son was born. In all, the couple had four sons, only two of whom survived into adulthood: Robert Todd Lincoln (1843–1926), Edward Baker Lincoln (1846–1850), William Wallace Lincoln (1850–1862) and Thomas “Tad” Lincoln (1853-1871).
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First Lady Lincoln
In November 1860, Lincoln was elected as the 16th President of the United States, causing 11 Southern states to secede from the Union. Most Kentuckians from Todd’s social circle, and indeed her stepfamily, supported the Southern cause, but Mary was a fervent and tireless supporter of the Union. Widely disliked in the White House, Mary Todd Lincoln was emotional and outspoken and spent lavishly during a time when budgets were tight to fight the Civil War. Some even accused her of being a Confederate spy. This tension continued even after the Civil War came to an end in April 1865.
On April 14, 1865, Mary Todd Lincoln sat next to her husband at Ford’s Theatre when he was shot by an assassin. The President died the following day, and Mary Todd Lincoln never fully recovered.
Mary Todd Lincoln's Later Life and Death
She returned to Illinois and, following the death of her son Thomas in 1871, fell into a deep depression. In a tell-all book about the days after the assassination, Mary Todd Lincoln’s servant, dressmaker and confidante Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley recalled: “the wails of a broken heart, the unearthly shrieks, the terrible convulsions” of the grieving widow and mother. Her sole surviving son, Robert, committed her to an insane asylum. She was released three months later, but never forgave him for the betrayal.
Mrs. Lincoln spent her later years traveling through Europe, though she suffered from declining health. She died on July 16, 1882, at her sister’s home in Illinois at age 63.