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The Madness Of Mary Lincoln
Her son had her committed. She said it was so he could get his hands on her money. Now, 130 years after this bitter and controversial drama, a trove of letters—long believed destroyed—sheds new light on it.
June/July 2006 | Volume 57, Issue 3
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Mary Lincoln returned from Europe in October 1880. Her physical health was deteriorating. In September she had fallen off a chair while hanging a painting and seriously injured her back, which made it difficult for her to walk. She returned to Springfield to live with her sister and spent most of her time in her room, sitting in the dark with a single candle, packing and unpacking her 64 trunks of clothing, and sleeping only on one side of her bed to leave “the President’s place” on the other side undisturbed. She and Robert reconciled in 1881, not long after President Garfield appointed him Secretary of War. Mary Lincoln died in her sister’s home on July 16, 1882, at the age of 64, most likely of complications from diabetes.
David Davis, Abraham Lincoln’s campaign manager, estate executor, and friend, wrote upon hearing of Mary Lincoln’s death: “Poor Mrs. Lincoln! She is at last at rest. She has been a deranged woman, ever since her husband’s death. In fact she was so, during his life.”
There have been many books and articles written about Mary Lincoln’s insanity case in the 131 years since it occurred. These works have examined everything from the extent of her insanity to Robert’s motivations to the unfair treatment of women by nineteenth-century American medical and legal professionals. Varying interpretations continue.
What can be agreed upon, however, is that the newly discovered “lost” letters will write a new chapter on the insanity episode. Their discovery continues to prove that even 141 years after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, there are still unknown jewels waiting to tell us yet more about the family of the most closely studied American in history.