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This week in history: Abraham Lincoln marries Mary Todd

For better or worse, the two would be constant companions throughout Lincoln’s rise to the presidency and the Civil War. Here’s a look at Mary Todd Lincoln after her husband’s death.

Two portraits of Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of President Abraham Lincoln, wearing the gown in which she appeared at the inaugural ball held in honor of her husband. The two were married Nov. 4, 1842.
Sun-Times file

As published in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times:

On Nov. 4, 1842, a socialite from Lexington, Kentucky, married an up-and-coming lawyer from Springfield, Illinois. For better or worse, Abraham Lincoln and his new wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, would face tragedies both personal and national together.

The Chicago Daily News started publishing in the last weeks of 1875, so the couple’s marriage, time spent in the White House and Lincoln’s assassination never made the front page. But after the president’s death in 1865, the paper did report on the widowed Mrs. Lincoln, who lived in Chicago for a time following her husband’s murder, until her death in 1882.

The first mention of Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, as she was always called at that time, came on March 16, 1878.

“It is a sad fact that Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, the widow of the late President Lincoln, is living a secluded life in an interior town of France, and declines to return to America, lest she may again be placed in a lunatic asylum.”

Not a very flattering brief. In 1875, Robert Lincoln, the couple’s only surviving son, asked a jury to declare his mother insane so he could move her to a sanitarium, citing erratic behavior. The jury agreed, and Mrs. Lincoln spent four months at Bellevue Place in Batavia before she and her lawyers organized her release. The following year about two months after the brief in the paper was published, a Chicago court declared her competent.

Though she came from a wealthy family, Mrs. Lincoln’s life had proved to be far from glamorous by 1875. She’d lost three of her four sons prematurely (one while in the White House) and witnessed her husband’s assassination. She’d also fled the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 and, due to some overspending, spent a good part of her life in debt. Some historians have attempted to diagnose her with bipolar disorder or other medical conditions to explain some of her more curious actions, but given all that she endured, she may have just been dealing with a tremendous amount of grief.

After 1876, Mrs. Lincoln moved abroad and spent several years in Europe away from the Daily News. Her name resurfaced in 1881 in a report from Springfield, where she was living with her sister.

“All hopes for the recovery of Mrs. Lincoln, widow of Abraham Lincoln, are abandoned,” the report said on May 31, 1881. “She daily grows weaker, and her attending physicians say that she cannot survive many days longer.”

Thankfully, Mrs. Lincoln recovered — and then began lobbying Congress to increase her annual pension of $3,000 as the widow of a former president killed during the Civil War. By this point, however, her spending habits were commonly known to be extravagant, and the Daily News had no patience for them.

“There is no foundation whatever for the sensational statements published from News York to the effect that Mrs. Abraham Lincoln is without sufficient means to secure needed medical attendance and care,” the paper reported on Nov. 24, 1881.

The Daily News cited the $60,000 Mrs. Lincoln owned in government bonds as well as her annual salary, which they quoted as $5,000 at the time. It’s unclear where the additional amount of money came from or if the paper was mistaken.

The paper then further took a shot at Mrs. Lincoln’s health, suggesting the same statements from New York also exaggerated her health concerns. “In short,” the paper concluded, “there is no occasion for alarm about Mrs. Lincoln’s financial or physical condition.”

Congress did eventually raise her pension and issue a back payment of $15,000, but she never got to collect it. Mrs. Lincoln died on July 16, 1882, in the same place where she and her husband said their vows.

“Mrs. Lincoln died at 8:15 o’clock last night, at the house of Hon. N.W. Edwards,” the paper said in a July 17, 1882 report, “and in the house in which she was married to Mr. Lincoln nearly forty years ago.”