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Mary Todd Lincoln

Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882), brought up in a prosperous family, received an outstanding education, but her roots in Kentucky and Illinois cause Washington to disdain her as a "frontier" woman, ignorant and unrefined. Eager to dispel this impression, Mary entertained lavishly, creating the false perception of a callous disregard for the fighting and dying of the Civil War. Viciously (and wrongly) depicted as a Southern traitor in the White House, her misery increased with a son's death and the harrow of her husband's assassination. Beset by fears that she was penniless, she battled Congress for a widow's pension. Her son Robert, fearful of her sanity, committed her to an insane asylum, from which she engineered her own release. She died in her sister's house where she had married Lincoln years before.


Loathed or Loved?--Mary Todd Lincoln

Elegance at the White House is not always well received. Americans want the First Lady to represent them as well. But, they also expect her to react appropriately in times of hardship.

Despite being well educated and coming from a socially prominent family, the Kentucky born Mary Todd Lincoln was derided by Washington society as an uncouth woman from the frontier. She spent a great deal of time and even more money trying to prove her critics wrong. Mary Todd Lincoln was determined to show her high style despite the turmoil of the Civil War. She wore elegant dresses and spared no expense entertaining.

She hoped that this would boost morale and support the power of the presidency during the divisive Civil War. This tactic had worked successfully for Dolley Madison during the War of 1812. But this was a very different war, and the public reaction was fierce.

Senator Benjamin Wade declined an invitation to a White House reception. His complaint reflected the views of Mary Todd Lincoln's many critics. "Are the President and Mrs. Lincoln aware that there is a Civil War? If they are not, Mr. and Mrs. Wade are, and for that reason decline to participate in feasting and dancing."

Yet, when Mrs. Lincoln stopped entertaining lavishly, she was also criticized.



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