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Dear Mr. History,

Do you know any crazy facts about Mary Todd Lincoln?



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Dear Mikayla,

I’m not sure of what you mean by “crazy facts,” and for that matter it’s a perpetual matter of opinion—then as well as now—as to how “crazy” Mary Todd Lincoln was. She certainly had a lifetime full of reasons to succumb to despair. She lost her mother before she was seven and described life under her stepmother as “desolate.” She seems to have compensated with her occasional orgies of spending, which was viewed as unpatriotic when she entertained at the White House during the Civil War, but after son William’s death in 1862 she ceased entertaining entirely—and was then criticized for shirking a First Lady’s social duties. She was unwavering in her faith in her husband, however, which was vindicated when he attained the presidency in 1860. After her marraige she signed her name strictly as “Mrs. Abraham Lincoln,” “Mrs. A. Lincoln” or, less formally in family correspondence, “Mary Lincoln.” Abe’s assassination in April 1865 was devastating to her; in the years thereafter she began to doubt her financial security, and after youngest son Thomas “Tad” Lincoln died in 1871 she was overcome by delusions of poverty and murder, right up to her death in 1882.

How much of Mary Lincoln’s high-strung extravagance was “crazy” or simply explainable remains up to posterity, but you might want to check out own page on the subject at, or find out more in the recent book, The Mary Lincoln Enigma: Historians on America’s Most Controversial First Lady.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History

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