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Home > History > First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln Biography

First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln Biography

This is a full biography of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.

Mary Todd Lincoln

Mary Todd Lincoln

Childhood and Large Family

Mary Todd Lincoln was born on December 13, 1818, in Lexington, Kentucky. She was born into a wealthy Kentucky family, though her mother died when she was seven. The following year, her father married Betsy Humphreys. The family lived in a fourteen-room Kentucky mansion, which Mary shared with her fourteen brothers and sisters! Her father was close friends with Kentucky political leader Henry Clay, who engendered a love of politics within Mary.

Marriage to Abraham Lincoln

Like many young women of her day, Mary left school as a teenager to attend finishing school, where she studied drama, dance, music, social graces, and learned to speak French fluently. In 1839, Mary moved to Springfield, Illinois, to live with her sister, Elizabeth. While living in Illinois, Mary was courted by both Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, though it was Lincoln whom she would become engaged to. Despite the engagement, the pair broke up before becoming engaged again. They were finally married on November 4, 1842, at Mary’s sister’s home in Springfield. By marrying Lincoln, Mary Todd gave up a life of opulence for one of general poverty. Lincoln had not yet become a successful lawyer and was crushed by debt. Mary’s family did not approve of Lincoln, citing his awkward appearance and humble upbringing.

The Wife of a Travelling Lawyer

Soon, however, Lincoln’s reputation as a lawyer grew and the pair were able to purchase a house in Springfield. Mary would have four boys: Robert, Eddie, Tad, and Willie. Mary raised the children at home while Lincoln traveled to courts throughout the state to argue cases and explain the law.

First Lady Shows Erratic Behavior

In 1860, Mary and her children moved to the White House. By this time, her second son Eddie had died. The transition was extremely difficult for Mrs. Lincoln. Her family grew up with slaves. Some of her brothers were fighting in the Confederate Army, and two had been killed in battle. Things took a turn for the worse for the Lincoln family in 1862, when her eleven-year-old son Willie died (probably of typhoid fever). Willie’s death plunged Mary into a deep depression, which may have resulted in highly publicized public outbursts and incidences of irrational behavior. Mary further sought to ease her pain by traveling to New York City where she would go on incredible shopping sprees, buying up the most expensive clothes, silks, and materials. New York merchants were happy to allow her to run up prodigious lines of credit that totaled, at least at one point, over $27,000. Mary also dabbled in the supernatural and several times procured the services of spiritualists to try to contact her dead son Willie. Despite her outrageous behavior, which some historians attribute to bipolar disorder, Mary Todd frequently visited field hospitals for Union soldiers and often hosted lavish parties at the White House to maintain the aura and prestige of the house of the president.

Abraham's Death and Mary's Downward Spiral

On April 14, 1865, Mary was present at the assassination of her husband at Ford’s Theater. Mary was inconsolable and soon returned to Illinois to recover. Her grief, however, would return with the death of her son Tad in 1871, and her behavior would become increasingly erratic over the course of the next few years. She would reportedly wander the streets of Chicago (while visiting her son Robert) with thousands of dollars in government bonds sewn into her jacket. She also continued to spend money lavishly on useless items and trinkets. In 1875, her sole surviving son, Robert, institutionalized his mother at a psychiatric hospital in Batavia, Illinois, where she apparently attempted suicide. By 1876, she was released to the custody of her sister, Elizabeth, in Springfield before embarking on a four-year trip traveling in Europe, where her health began to decline. In 1880, she returned to the Springfield home of her sister. She died on July 16, 1882, in Springfield at the age of 63.

Abraham Lincoln Articles

Abraham Lincoln Reading Comprehension (Grades 5 and up). These Include Between 7-10 Critical-Thought, Multiple Choice Qustions. Online Versions Give Immediate Feedback and Score Reports

Abraham Lincoln Activities

  • Important Places in the Life of Abraham Lincoln Interactive Map - This interactive map allows students to explore the important places in Abraham Lincoln's life such as New Salem, Springfield, New York City, and many others.
  • Mr. Polk's War - This captivating printable requires students to understand the concept of manifest destiny and to conduct a mock interview in which they answer tough questions in the role of Abraham Lincoln (against the Mexican-American War) and in the role of President James K. Polk (in support of the war).
  • Futility Versus Immortality - This activity requires students to analyze the qualities of poor leaders such as Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan and contrast them with a leader such as Abraham Lincoln.
  • I'll Always Remember Where I Was - This historical prompts requires students to imagine the earth-shaking effect the news of the Emancipation Proclamation had on Americans in 1862. In the spirit of the Emancipation Proclamation, students must write about the biggest news event of their lives and describe its impact.
  • The Power of Dreams - This printout describes Abraham Lincoln's famous dream about his own assassination and then requires students to describe and draw a scene from a powerful dream they've had.
  • Oh Captain! My Captain! - This printout describes Walt Whitman's famous Oh Captain! My Captain! elegy to President Lincoln and then asks students to think of their own hero and to write a similar poem.
  • Primary Source Analysis - Lincoln's Letter to Fanny McCollough This printable activity requires students to analyze a famous condolence letter written by Abraham Lincoln to a teenage girl after her father was killed in the Civil War.
  • With Malice for None, With Charity for All Decoding Puzzle - This activity requires students to decode and interpret the famous presidential quote uttered by Abraham Lincoln.
  • Dr. Samuel Mudd - Critical Thought Questions The printable narrative that describes the role Dr. Mudd played after Lincoln's assassination. It includes three short-answer questions regarding the main ideas of the article content, critical thought about the content, and vocabulary from the passage.
  • Ms. Laura Keene - Critical Thought Questions This printable narrative that describes the role Ms. Laura Keene played after Lincoln's assassination. It includes three short-answer questions regarding the main ideas of the article content, critical thought about the content, and vocabulary from the passage.
  • The Execution of Mary Surratt - Critical Thought Questions - This printable narrative describes the circumstances in the Mary Surratt execution . It includes four short-answer questions regarding the main ideas of the article content, critical thought about the content, and vocabulary from the passage.
  • Abraham Lincoln Paragraph Paramedics - Find and correct the spelling, punctuation, and usage errors in the paragraph. Click on the error and then type in the correction. Immediate feedback is given.
  • Presidential Quotes - This activity first requires students to match the famous quote with the president. Next, students must choose their favorite quote and attempt to explain it in detail.
  • Presidential Heights - Did you know James Madison was the shortest president? Did you know Abraham Lincoln was the tallest president? This fun math activity requires students to answer questions about the heights of presidents by viewing the bar graph and making conversions from feet to inches and inches to feet.
  • Printable Presidents Word Search
  • - All 45 are in there!
  • Illinois State Quarter (Featuring Lincoln) Coloring
  • Lincoln Memorial Coloring
  • Lincoln Home National Historic Site Video

Online Games Involving Lincoln

  • Presidential Mismatch - Students must rearrange the presidential chart so that the presidents are in the correct order in which they served. The number of presidents used in the game is customizable. The timer allows for friendly competitions. Students who enjoy history will love this game!
  • Currency Mismatch - This is a wildly fun game that requires students to drag and drop the correct presidential faces to their correct dollar bills. The game is timed and makes for awesome friendly competitions within a classroom.
  • Glamour Legends - This fun game allows students to dress up George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Harriet Tubman, or Christopher Columbus in more modern, or more primitive clothes.
  • Presidents Word Search - This is an online word search with the 45 presidents. Choose with or without a timer.

United States Presidents

 1. George Washington  16. Abraham Lincoln  32. Franklin D. Roosevelt
 2. John Adams  17. Andrew Johnson  33. Harry S. Truman
 3. Thomas Jefferson  18. Ulysses S. Grant  34. Dwight D. Eisenhower 
 4. James Madison  19. Rutherford B. Hayes  35. John F. Kennedy
 5. James Monroe  20. James A. Garfield  36. Lyndon B. Johnson
 6. John Quincy Adams  21. Chester A. Arthur  37. Richard Nixon
 7. Andrew Jackson  22/24. Grover Cleveland  38. Gerald R. Ford
 8. Martin Van Buren  23. Benjamin Harrison  39. Jimmy Carter
 9. William Henry Harrison  25. William McKinley  40. Ronald Reagan
10. John Tyler  26. Theodore Roosevelt  41. George H.W. Bush
11. James K. Polk  27. William Howard Taft  42. Bill Clinton
12. Zachary Taylor  28. Woodrow Wilson  43. George W. Bush
13. Millard Fillmore  29. Warren G. Harding  44. Barack Obama
14. Franklin Pierce  30. Calvin Coolidge  45. Donald J. Trump
15. James Buchanan  31. Herbert Hoover  

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