Mary Todd Lincoln



“The leading matter in your letter is your wish to return to this side of the Mountains. Will you be a good girl in all things, if I consent? Then come along, and that as soon as possible.” — Abraham Lincoln to Mary Todd Lincoln, June 12, 1848


Mary Ann Todd was born in Lexington, Kentucky, on December 13, 1818. She was the granddaughter of Levi Todd, one of the founders of Lexington, and daughter of Robert S. Todd, a prosperous business leader and active Whig. Mary attended two boarding schools in Lexington over a period of nine years, making her one of the best-educated women of her generation. Her mother, Eliza (Parker) Todd, died in childbirth in 1825, and her father soon married Elizabeth Humphreys of Frankfort. In 1839, Mary Todd joined her older sisters in Springfield, Illinois, where she lived with her sister Elizabeth (Todd) Edwards.


Here she met Abraham Lincoln whom she married in 1842. They had four children: Robert Todd, Edward, William, and Thomas (Tad); all but the eldest, Robert Todd, predeceased her. Although Mary Todd Lincoln lived the normal domestic life of typical nineteenth-century, middle-class women, she always had a strong interest in political issues and in her husband’s career.


Mary Todd Lincoln’s White House years were controversial because of her perceived extravagance, high temper, and supposed Confederate sympathies. In fact, she was a strong, loyal Unionist who devoted much time and energy to the war effort.


The years following her husband’s assassination were darkened by the death of Thomas in 1871, financial struggles, and a bitter estrangement from Robert Todd Lincoln who had her committed to an insane asylum in 1875. She was released after four months. Pronounced sane in 1876, she spent four years in France. She returned in 1880 because of ill-health and died at the home of her sister Elizabeth in Springfield, Illinois, in 1882.


Mary Todd Lincoln

Illinois State Historical Library