Was Mary Todd Lincoln insane?

5 Mar

A fascinating program scheduled for this weekend in Webster will explore the question of whether Mary Todd Lincoln was deranged — or just depressed.

Photo of Mary Todd Lincoln by Matthew Brady from Wikimedia Commons.

Apparently it is common knowledge that the wife of Abraham Lincoln was considered a “lunatic,” to use the accepted term of the day.  But there are some who believe that Mary Todd Lincoln was suffering not from lunacy, but from depression.

One of those people is Patricia Nugent, an East Irondequoit native who has written about the subject in the online edition of Ms. Magazine. In her article, she writes,

Many of us know that the former First Lady was convicted of lunacy, instigated by her eldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln. She spent almost four months in an insane asylum until she was able to enlist support for a retrial, at which she was declared sane once more.

What we don’t know much about is what led to the behavior that was considered lunacy in the court of public opinion and a court of law…my assessment is that Mary Todd Lincoln suffered innumerable losses in her life and had few socially acceptable means of expressing her sorrow. Such bottled-up sadness resulted in acting out behavior that was interpreted as insanity.

Those losses included the death of her mother when she was just six years old, rejection by her stepmother, the loss of three of her four sons, and, of course, the assassination of her beloved husband. Her eldest (and only surviving) son, was no support at all.  He was “cold, judgmental and unaffectionate,” Nugent wrote.

I’d say that’s an understatement. For crying out loud, he had his mother convicted of lunacy.

Nugent will discuss her article at a presentation from 2-4 pm this Sunday March 10, at the Harmony House, 58 East Main Street, Webster. The public is invited to join the discussion and learn more about this tragic woman whom Abraham Lincoln loved so dearly, but whom historians call “one of the most detested women in American history.”

The event is being sponsored by Yesterday’s Muse Books, and there is no charge. Refreshments will be provided by Webster Gourmet.  For more information, call (585) 265-9295.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: