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The life of Mary Todd Lincoln

Cliff Weitzman
By Cliff Weitzman Dyslexia & Accessibility Advocate, CEO/Founder of Speechify in People on February 20, 2023

    The life of Mary Todd Lincoln

    Throughout its history, the United States had many formidable First Ladies, loved and cherished by the entire nation. Nonetheless, the case of Mary Todd Lincoln was a bit different.

    While her husband and the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, was one of the most beloved US presidents, Mrs. Lincoln was mostly scrutinized and probably deeply misunderstood. Today, however, we have new insight into her life.

    Early life and education

    Mary Lincoln was born Mary Ann Todd in 1818, in Lexington, Kentucky. She was the fourth of seven children and unfortunately lost her mother, Elizabeth, at only six years old. Her father, Robert Smith Todd, shortly remarried.

    Her family was very wealthy, mostly due to the fact they were slave owners. That meant Mary Todd was entitled to good education and a good life in general, which wasn’t the case for most women at that time.

    After finishing high school, Mary moved to Springfield, Illinois, where she lived with her sister Elizabeth Edwards. She was courted by many successful men, including a democrat, Stephen A. Douglas.

    In 1842, she chose her life companion and married Abraham Lincoln in the home of her sister. He was a Whig and had more conservative views, like Mary. She was a young woman, 23 at the time, and Lincoln was 33.

    Union to Abraham Lincoln

    Mary Lincoln had four sons with her husband Abraham – Robert Todd Lincoln (the eldest), Edward Baker Lincoln, William ‘Willie’ Wallace Lincoln, and Thomas Lincoln (known as ‘Tad’, the youngest).

    Robert was the only one to outlive both of his parents, as Edward died aged 4, Willie died when he was 12, and Tad died at the age of 18, six years after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

    Mary and Abraham were married for 23 years, and she sat next to him at the moment of her husband’s assassination. Her husband’s death and the death of her sons later had a major impact on Mary’s mental health, and it’s believed she suffered from depression and bipolar disorder.

    Serving as the First Lady

    Following the elections in 1861, when Lincoln became president, the Confederacy (11 southern states) seceded from the United States. The Civil War lasted for four years (1861 to 1865), and Abraham Lincoln (the ‘Great Emancipator’) was the president the entire time, and Mary Lincoln was the First Lady in these tumultuous times.

    The Civil War was particularly challenging for Mary since her half-brothers were fighting for the Confederate Army, and even her brother was a Confederate surgeon. Mary Lincoln fully supported her husband and his Union policy, nevertheless.

    During her time in Washington DC, despite the fact there was a brewing civil war going on, Mary Lincoln was spending a fortune on White House redecoration, new china, and jewelry. In fact, in order to pay for these costs, Congress eventually passed two additional appropriations.

    Though she had expensive taste, she was also caring. Mary Lincoln often visited hospitals in Washington DC to give care packages to wounded soldiers and even wrote personal letters to their loved ones during her time in the White House.

    On April 14th, 1865, the Lincolns were watching Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre, along with Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris.

    At 10:15 pm, John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln while Mary was holding his hand. The morning after, on April 15th, President Lincoln passed away. His wife, son Robert, and cabinet were present.

    Edwin Stanton then famously said: “now he belongs to the ages.”

    Later life

    All these tragic events, the loss of her sons and a husband, changed Mary at the core. Though she received many condolence letters, including one from England, written by Queen Victoria herself, nothing could fill the void in her heart.

    She returned to Illinois and lived in Chicago with her sons in an estate worth $80,000. In 1868, she even asked for public financial aid in the New York World.

    Mary Lincoln then moved to Europe, Frankfurt, more precisely, with her youngest son for several years. Thomas (Tad) died just a few years later.

    Mary Lincoln died on July 16th, 1882, aged 63, in Springfield, Illinois. Her last years were turbulent, filled with grief and tragic loss. Eventually, she died in her sister’s house, the same place where she married ‘Abe’. She was also buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery.

    Five facts about Mrs. Lincoln

    1. Mary Todd Lincoln often had migraines and heavy headaches due to a previous head injury.
    2. Mrs. Lincoln was over a foot shorter than her husband, Abraham.
    3. Mary learned how to dance and speak French while attending Madame Mentelle’s school for girls.
    4. She unconditionally supported her husband’s political career. Those who knew the couple claimed they were truly in love.
    5. Mary was once admitted to a sanatorium (insane asylum) but was later released into the custody of her sister Elizabeth.


    Jean Harvey Baker wrote a remarkable book dubbed Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography, which might be a good read for you if you’re into American history or the Lincoln family per se.

    Historian Catherine Clinton also summed up Mary’s life in the book Mrs. Lincoln: A Life.

    Nevertheless, perhaps the most interesting book concerning Mary Lincoln was written by her own dressmaker and confidante Elizabeth Keckley – Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House, published in 1868.

    Audiobooks via Speechify

    If you’d like to research and get to know the Lincolns better, Speechify Audiobooks is a great place to start. Speechify Audiobooks has over 70,000 titles across all genres, and you can find several about Mr. Lincoln and Mrs. Lincoln. Two of the books we’d recommend checking out our Behind the Scenes by Mary Lincoln’s dressmaker and long-time friend, Elizabeth Keckley, or The Lincolns by Daniel Mark Epstein. Both of these audiobooks provide an in-depth and personal look at the Lincolns’ life and marriage.

    In addition, to learning more about the Lincolns, you can also explore many other audiobooks about other presidents or politics in general. Join Speechify Audiobooks and get your first premium audiobook for free.


    Did Lincoln marry his cousin?

    No. Mary Todd was not Lincoln’s cousin. She was the cousin of John Todd Stuart, Abraham Lincoln’s law partner.

    How old was Mary Todd when Lincoln died?

    Mary Lincoln was 46 years old when President Lincoln was assassinated.

    What is the full name of Mary Todd Lincoln?

    She was born Mary Ann Todd but renounced the name ‘Ann’ after her sister was born. Mary Todd became Mary Lincoln in 1842, often referred to as Mary Todd Lincoln.

    Cliff Weitzman
    Cliff Weitzman

    Cliff Weitzman is a dyslexia advocate and the CEO and founder of Speechify, the #1 text-to-speech app in the world, totaling over 100,000 5-star reviews and ranking first place in the App Store for the News & Magazines category. In 2017, Weitzman was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list for his work making the internet more accessible to people with learning disabilities. Cliff Weitzman has been featured in EdSurge, Inc., PC Mag, Entrepreneur, Mashable, among other leading outlets.