30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln

Trista - December 15, 2019

Mary Todd Lincoln lived a life of privilege and tragedy. Growing up on a plantation, she becomes comfortable with slavery. She didn’t understand any other life — at least not until she met a rather tall gentleman named Abraham Lincoln. Finding herself falling in love with Lincoln, she became pregnant. Quickly the couple married and settled into a home in Springfield, Illinois.

It is at this moment that Mary Todd Lincoln’s life becomes more tragic. Mary continued to live well as Abraham even agreed to let his wife hire a servant to help care for their rambunctious children. Her life would become more privileged and tragic as her husband became the 16th President of the United States.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Todd House Museum marker. Wikimedia.

30. Mary’s Mother Passed Away When She Was A Little Girl

Even though Mary grew up in comfort, she would go through heartache. As the town banker, Mary’s father, Robert Todd, owned slaves. His wife and Mary’s mother, Elizabeth “Eliza” Todd remained at home with her children, three of which came into this world before Mary.

Mary lived a carefree life until one day when her mother went into labor with her seventh child. During childbirth, Eliza contacts puerperal fever and never recovered. A few days after giving birth to George, Eliza passed away. For the next two years, Mary’s maternal grandmother and older sister took care of her.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Todd Lincoln. Biography.

29. Mary’s Stepmother Called Her The “Limb Of Satan”

Mary’s father became more interested in finding a new mother for his seven children than making sure his children were well taken care of. Two years after Mary’s mother passed, her father married Elizabeth “Betsey” Humphreys. This new mother quickly proved that she didn’t care about her stepchildren.

Mary and Betsey never got along. As Mary tried to protect her younger siblings from Betsey’s embarrassing punishments, she called Mary the “limb of Satan.” To get away from the environment, Mary decided to board at her school, only coming home on the weekends.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Todd Lincoln. Historynet.

28. Mary Tried But Never Got Along With Her Stepmother

It did not matter if Betsey took care of her biological children, whom she had eight of her stepchildren; she did not show compassion or love. As a very strict woman, the children quickly became afraid of her.

After marrying Lincoln and raising her boys, Mary started to understand her stepmother’s ways a little more. While Mary never became strict with her boys, she understands Betsey’s role. Therefore, Mary tried to warm up to Betsey, who would have none of it. Even as an adult, Mary could not gain her stepmother’s embrace.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Todd Lincoln portrait. Flickr / Color by Klimbim.

27. Mary Never Felt Truly Accepted

Mary had a happy life until the death of her mother. After that, she never felt truly accepted—not even when she married Abraham Lincoln. Once Mary started looking for a mate, she found herself pushed aside as she was not beautiful like the other women.

When Mary met Abraham, she became more infatuated with him than he was of her. At the time, Abraham missed the love of his life, and he wanted very little to do with any other woman. However, Mary and Abraham would grow close and become forced to marry when Mary became pregnant.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Abraham and Mary Lincoln. Modern Mrs. Darcy.

26. Lincoln Told A Friend He Would Rather Not Marry Mary On Their Wedding Day

As Abraham Lincoln left his home to marry Mary, he told a friend, “I guess I am going to hell.” While Lincoln cared for Mary, she had just found out she was pregnant, and Lincoln was the father. Lincoln, at 33 years old, knew the couple needed to marry.

Mary, ten years younger than her husband, loved him but always felt their marriage didn’t have the love she hoped for. Naturally, Lincoln liked to joke around and often made fun of Mary. To this day, people are not sure what Lincoln indeed met when joking about Mary.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois. Wikimedia.

25. Abraham Left Mary Alone For Months At A Time

While historians continue to debate how much love Mary and Abraham had for each other, it is difficult to think they had a strong relationship when Abraham left Mary along with their children for months at a time. Abraham Lincoln became a successful lawyer before he went into politics, and this meant he needed to travel.

Mary always did what she could to support her husband, so she spent many lonely days raising her growing family and taking care of the home. If Lincoln was home, he left early in the morning and came back late at night.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Young Abraham Lincoln. Allthatsinteresting.

24. Many People Feel Mary Lincoln Became Depressed After Her Marriage

Mary loved her husband. She did everything she could to make him happy, and like any good wife during the Victorian Era, this meant that she put her feelings and wants aside. She focused on raising her boys and providing heaven as a home when Abraham came home.

While Abraham would mention he appreciated the work Mary did as a mother and wife to his friends, he didn’t always show this appreciation to Mary. Most of their evenings consisted of Abraham talking about his day, playing with the boys, or focusing on his political campaigns and not on Mary.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Lincoln Illustration. Politico.

23. Mary’s Personality Didn’t Match The Way Women Should Act

Women, especially women of higher society, needed to behave in a certain way, and become essential member of society. They needed to remain calm, even in the face of chaos. Women had to keep up their appearance and maintain control of their children.

Mary never had trouble telling people what she thought. She stood by her opinions and didn’t let society tell her what to think. One of her brother-in-law’s stated, “Mary could make a bishop forget his prayers.” Mary’s personality caused a stir in society, and people often saw her as an outcast. This further contributed to her possible depression.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Silhouette portrait of Braham and Mary Lincoln by Morris & Bendein, Inc. Loc.gov.

22. Mary’s Family Did Not Support Her Relationship With Abraham

Abraham and Mary started courting by 1840 after Mary had ended her relationship with Abraham’s future rival, Stephen Douglas. The couple would become engaged, but after several months, Abraham would end the engagement because of Mary’s family and friends.

While not all of Abraham’s friends approved of Mary, her family despised Abraham. Mary’s family said that Abraham could not support the lifestyle Mary was used to. Her sister also told her that their relationship would never last. They were too different people who could never be happy as man and wife.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Illustration of Abraham and Mary’s Wedding on November 4, 1842. Pinterest.

21. Abraham and Mary Broke Off Their Relationship Several Times

Between the years 1840 and 1842, it is reported they broke off their relationship at least three times. While one reason is because of lack of support, another reason reportedly is because of Mary’s spending habits. Mary didn’t think about the money she spent; she simply spent it.

Abraham grew up poor and understood that you had to work hard for your money. It irritated him that Mary could not grasp this concept and always asked Abraham or her family for money and didn’t expect to work for it. Eventually, the couple would marry, giving every very short notice.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Lincoln. LOC.

20. Mary Dealt With Rages While Abraham Dealt With Depression

Everyone’s relationship has problems. While the couple had happy moments and showed compassion toward each other, they also had very violent and troubling moments. One night, Mary struck her husband in the head with a piece of wood because he didn’t add it to the fire fast enough.

Mary also had jealous rages because she genuinely believed her husband cheated on her with several women. Part of this is because Lincoln considered himself a bit of a lady’s man. Furthermore, Mary had to deal with her husband’s bouts of depression, where he refused to communicate.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Illustration of John Wilkes Booth shooting Abraham Lincoln. Wikimedia.

19. Mary And Abraham Were Holding Hands When He Was Shot

The details of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination are well-written in American history. From the moment John Wilkes Booth shot the president to today, people continue to record their findings the murder.

One of the most wholesome, yet shocking details of that night is that Mary was holding the hand of her husband when she hears the sound of a gunshot behind her. She continued to hold his hand, and he fell after the shot. Many historians believe that she held his hand until she realized what happened and needed to allow doctors and other people to assist her husband.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Illustration of Mary Todd Lincoln. Thoughtco.

18. Mary’s Medication To Ease Her Pain May Have Contributed To Her Unstable Behavior.

Like everyone else, Mary Lincoln portrayed behavior that society didn’t deem appropriate during her time. Unfortunately, Mary lived under a microscope because she becomes the First Lady of the United States. During this time, Mary also dealt with a lot of physical and emotional pain. It became so bad that she took various prescribed medications.

In 1873, Mary’s doctor gave her a high dosage of chloral hydrate, which can contribute to hallucinations and paranoia. While no one can prove if the drug actually affected Mary in this way, her erratic behavior grew worse after she began taking the medication.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Bellevue Place, where Mary stayed for several years. Pinterest / Thomas Henneman Photography.

17. People Believe Abraham Lincoln’s Death Made Mary Crazy

Even though the couple had a rocky relationship, and many people feel that Abraham didn’t want to marry Mary, he loved her, and Mary desperately loved him. Most people struggle with the death of their spouse, but historian believes the death of her husband left Mary mentally unstable.

Mary’s behavior after the death of her husband became increasingly erratic. Then, in 1871, Mary lost her third son, which made her behavior worse. Mary’s unpredictable behavior caused her oldest and only surviving son, Robert, to commit her to an asylum.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Todd as painted by her niece. Tom Eblen, Lexington Herald-Leader.

16. Mary’s Critics Called Her A Hellcat

Mary Todd Lincoln was always more of a laughing stock than someone people loved. Even those who knew Mary well and enjoyed her company would shake their heads at her behavior from time to time. However, no one enjoyed poking fun of Mary more than her thousands of critics.

Mary tried desperately to win over her critics, especially once she moved to Washington. One step she took was redecorating the President’s office to give it some class. Unfortunately, she went way over budget and only gave people more to criticize her about as Abraham’s secretary started calling her a “hellcat.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Abraham, and Mary Lincoln. Facebook.

15. Mary Had To Fight Congress For Her Widow’s Pension

Abraham Lincoln died without a written will, which means that Mary’s financial situation continued to deteriorate over the following years. For years, Mary repeatedly moved so her creditors would not find her. She even moved to England in an attempt to escape her creditors.

From 1865 until 1870, Mary fought Congress on whether she should receive a widow’s pension or not. This was something Congress had done before, and she felt it was owed to her because her husband died during his presidency. Even though Congress despised Mary, they finally agreed in 1870.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary, William, Robert, Thomas, and Abraham Lincoln. Daily Mail / UIG via Getty Images.

14. Mary’s Shopping Trips To New York During The Civil War Became Scandalous

Once her husband became President of the United States, Mary Lincoln’s spending became worse. She would frequently go to New York City and not place any care into how much money she spent. Unlike other First Ladies, Mary wanted to redo nearly every room in the White House.

With the start of the Civil War, people began to look at Mary’s shopping sprees in more detail. As the states of the Union continued to struggle financially, barely having food to provide their families and supplies for the soldiers, Mary spent lavishly and became a scandalous woman.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary and Abraham with Robert and Tad in 1864. Inside Hook.

13. People Rarely Noted Mary’s Good Deeds

Even though Mary regularly exhibited erratic behavior, she did everything she could to help someone. She held many social parties to try to give people a stress-free night throughout the Civil War. She contributed to charities and enjoyed spending time volunteering around Washington, DC.

During the Civil War, Mary spent many weeks traveling and visiting wounded soldiers. She gave them care and provided for them how she could. Unfortunately, these good deeds were overlooked by her critics and many people in society. One reason is that she refused to speak of them or allow reports to come due to privacy.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Willie Lincoln. Washington Post.

12. Mary Couldn’t Leave Her Bed After Her Son Willie Passed Away

Willie Lincoln is considered to be the favorite son of Mary. No one knows why she doted on Willie more than Robert, Tad, or Edward, but she would often tell people that Willie was her favorite. This might be one reason Mary couldn’t function after Willie’s passing.

Mary struggled with Willie’s death so much that she couldn’t bring herself to attend the funeral. Grief-stricken himself yet needing to help the country through a Civil War, Abraham couldn’t care for his wife. Therefore, he hired a nurse to attend to Mary’s needs and make sure she ate and drank water.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Battle of Gettysburg, by Currier & Ives. Britannica.

11. The Civil War Separate Mary From Many Members Of Her Family

Mary Todd Lincoln’s family supported slavery, and many members joined the Confederacy when the United States split. While Mary continued to stay in contact with several of her family members, Mary had to support the Union and not the Confederacy.

Many of Mary’s brothers fought in the Confederacy, and one of her younger sisters, Emilie, married a Confederate general. Fortunately, this did not end Mary’s relationship with her brothers or Emilie. In fact, Emilie continued to visit Mary at the White House. Still, the Civil War caused personal stress on Mary as she worried about her family in the Confederacy.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Todd Lincoln. The Famous People.

10. Mary Would Only Wear Black After The Death Of Her Husband

Mary considered herself to be in mourning for the rest of her life after the death of her husband. While it was normal for women to go into mourning for two years, Mary continued to wear black after this time period.

Mary’s continuous morning was a bold move during her time because it was customary for women no longer in mourning to wear colorful dresses. In fact, black was reserved for the morning, and society believed women should not wear black unless they were grieving. Mary went so far as to auction off all her colorful clothing.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Statue of Mary and Abraham Lincoln. Real Racine.

9. Mary Suffered From Severe Headaches During Her Adult Years

Many people feel Mary suffered from depression throughout her life, which also contributed to her severe headaches. She would lay in bed for days trying to get rid of a headache. Other symptoms that accompanied the headaches included vomiting, nausea, and sensitivity to light.

Unfortunately, Mary’s headaches grew worse after she suffered a carriage accident while living in the White House. Reportedly, she fell out of the carriage and hit her head, receiving a head injury from the fall. The accident and headaches also made her depression grow worse over time.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Illustration of Lincoln’s final hours. The Boston Globe.

8. She Lacked Support After The Death Of Her Husband

Usually, people flock to support someone who is dealing with the death of their partner. This was not the case for Mary. While some people felt sorry for her, they also felt sorry for themselves as they lost their President.

Most people felt that Mary’s grief was an act and a cry for attention. They didn’t believe that she loved Lincoln enough to grieve so deeply. Other people despised her so much that they didn’t care how she felt as she tried to pick up the pieces of her life. Mary received little support after the death of her husband.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Elizabeth Keckly, Mary Lincoln’s dressmaker. NY Times

7. Mary Lincoln Felt Betrayed By Her Personal Friend And Dressmaker

Mary Lincoln didn’t have many friends, and she felt somewhat isolated from society. Even when she held extravagant parties, people pushed her aside or ignored her. Therefore, when she found a dressmaker she liked, the two became best friends.

Born a slave, Elizabeth Keckly used her dressmaking skills to win her freedom. Mary fell in love with Elizabeth’s talents and hired Elizabeth as her personal dressmaker. They spent nearly every day together, and Mary felt she had a close friend. This feeling ended in 1868 when Elizabeth wrote about her years with Mary, who felt betrayed by the book.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary with two of her sons, Willie and Tad. The President’s Hall of Fame.

6. Three Of Mary’s Sons Died Before Her Death

Mary Lincoln lived through more loss than one person can handle. Not only did she lose her husband, Abraham Lincoln, but she also lost three of her four sons. The Lincoln’s first loss happened when three-year-old Edward died of tuberculosis in 1850.

Mary would not face another loss until her son, Willie, passed away in 1862 after both he and his brother, Tad, became sick with typhoid fever. About six years after losing her husband, Mary’s 18-year-old son, Tad, passed away from an illness. The only son who outlived Mary was their oldest child, Robert.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Robert Todd Lincoln, the oldest son of Mary and Abraham Lincoln. Biography.

5. Mary’s Own Son, Robert, Committed Her To An Asylum

Mary’s behavior was always a bit unpredictable, but it became worse throughout her adult years. Losing three sons and her husband, started to take a toll on Mary, and soon, she found herself living in Chicago with her oldest son. It didn’t take long for Robert to start worrying about his mother’s uncontrollable behavior.

To have his mother committed, Robert Lincoln needed to prove his mother was insane in front of a judge. As a lawyer, Robert knew what proof he needed and successfully committed Mary to Bellevue Place outside of Chicago, Illinois, for several months.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Todd Lincoln and Abraham’s spirit standing behind her. The Atlantic.

4. People Believe Abraham Lincoln’s Spirit Haunted Mary

Since the death of Abraham Lincoln, many people claim to see his spirit. There are stories of Lincoln’s ghost knocking on the bedroom doors in the White House. Other people claim to see Lincoln walking around Ford’s Theatre or in the Peterson House.

One of the most notable ghost stories of Abraham comes from a well-known photograph of what people believe to be Lincoln’s spirit posed behind a grieving Mary. Some historians speculate that one reason Mary went “crazy” after Lincoln’s death is that she continued to see his spirit.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Illustration of Abraham Lincoln’s ghost in a White House bedroom. NY Daily News.

3. Mary Lincoln Became A Laughing Stock Because Of Her Belief In The Paranormal

Mary Todd Lincoln became interested in the paranormal and often contacted mediums to contact her children after they passed away. Mary convinced herself that she still communicated with her deceased son, Willie, for the rest of her life. Mary continued to contact her children, and later husband, until her dying day.

While modern minds are more open to the paranormal, people in the mid-1800s did not have such open minds. When word got out that Mary Lincoln believed in ghosts, she became a laughing stock in the United States, especially because of her status in American society.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Lincoln’s tomb. Find a Grave.

2. Mary Lincoln Died Alone In The Same House She Married Abraham and Penniless

Mary Todd Lincoln died from a stroke on July 16, 1882. She had suffered the stroke suddenly the previous day as she collapsed and fell into a coma. This was about 11 years after her youngest son had died and 40 years after she married her husband in the same house.

While Mary did not live alone at the time of her death as she lived with her sister, Elizabeth, who supported Mary as she was penniless. Over her last years, Mary became estranged from her only surviving son, Robert. She never got over the fact that he committed her.

30 Tragic Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Lincoln portrait. White House History.

1. Mary Lincoln Is Still Remembered For Her Mental Illness and Extravagant Lifestyle

For the past several decades, historians researched the life of Mary Lincoln. They want to know as much as possible about her, especially when it comes to her life after the assassination of Abraham. While historians discuss the good and bad times of her life, most people think of Mary Todd Lincoln as “crazy.”

Today, when you Google Mary Lincoln, you will read more about her mental illness. She is remembered as someone who wasn’t well-liked because of her extravagant lifestyle. She is also remembered for being the former first lady whose own son committed her to an asylum.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Betsey Humphreys: Mary Lincoln’s Wicked Stepmother” Feather Schwartz Foster, WordPress. January 2018.

“Mary Todd Lincoln: Biography.” The Famous People. July 2018.

“Mary Todd Lincoln Became a Laughingstock After Her Husband’s Assassination.” Erin Blakemore, History. April 2018.

“The Afterlife of Abraham Lincoln.” Zach Goldhammer, The Atlantic. April 2015.

“Heartbreaking Facts About Mary Todd Lincoln, America’s Most Tragic First Lady.” Setareh Janda, Ranker.

“Mary Todd Lincoln Facts.” American Civil War Facts.

“The Life Of Mary Todd Lincoln.” Kimberly J. Largent, Ehistory at Ohio State University.