For this week’s installment of well behaved women indeed making history and badly behaved women making history we really kinda wish they hadn’t, as we are two days away from an election where a badly behaved woman may (but probably and hopefully won’t) make some more ugly history, let’s visit another First Lady whose behavior was not quite as commendable as Dolley Madison’s. Today let’s talk about Mary Todd Lincoln.
Mrs. Lincoln is generously described as a homely, disagreeable woman whose bitter disposition drove her husband from their home to seek peace and may have contributed to his choice of professions as a circuit-riding lawyer, which kept Abe on the road for months at a time. Her manners were sloppy and she was easily baited into making foolish and incendiary statements, which Lincoln’s adversaries were eager to seize on during the contentious politics of the Civil War. As the country was fighting for its survival, Mary thought it’d be a good idea to refurbish the White House, buy new china, and host opulent social functions at which she made a general fool of herself. This was a move nearly rivaling Marie Antoinette’s infamous “let them eat cake” and taken almost as badly by a country suffering from the horrors and deprivations of a prolonged war that many blamed on her husband. The very night of Lincoln’s assassination, the tired president took hold of her hand as he sat beside her at the theater, and her response was to scold him for it, asking what the local elites would think if they were to see him “hanging off her so.”
He was shot minutes later.
After Abe’s death, her manner descended further into the bizarre and offensive while her frivolous spending went on unabated. I’ll grant that she suffered more losses including the deaths of three of her children and that likely pushed her already unstable mind over the breaking point, but nonetheless she became more delusional in the years following the Civil War and attempted suicide (or nearly killed herself fleeing from things that weren’t there) on more than one occasion. With the help of a feminist lawyer (yeah, they had those back then), she managed to fend off attempts to institutionalize her for her own good and alienated her surviving son for most of the remainder of her life.
Way to make a hard life even worse, Mary.