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The Commitment of Mary Todd Lincoln David A. Casey, M.D. Innominate Society October 11, 2011.

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Presentation on theme: "The Commitment of Mary Todd Lincoln David A. Casey, M.D. Innominate Society October 11, 2011."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Commitment of Mary Todd Lincoln David A. Casey, M.D. Innominate Society October 11, 2011

2 Introduction Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln, lived through a series of tragedies. She suffered from psychiatric symptoms and was civilly committed in 1875 Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln, lived through a series of tragedies. She suffered from psychiatric symptoms and was civilly committed in 1875 Her case raises may interesting questions including the problems inherent in retrospective psychiatric diagnosis of historical figures and longstanding controversies on the role of involuntary hospitalization in psychiatry Her case raises may interesting questions including the problems inherent in retrospective psychiatric diagnosis of historical figures and longstanding controversies on the role of involuntary hospitalization in psychiatry

3 The Commitment Papers In 2010 the Louisville’s Frazier History Museum obtained the original commitment documents and will display them for the first time as part of a new Civil War exhibit beginning on Saturday, October 15. In 2010 the Louisville’s Frazier History Museum obtained the original commitment documents and will display them for the first time as part of a new Civil War exhibit beginning on Saturday, October 15. Tonight’s discussion will include the case of Mary Todd Lincoln and a presentation about the documents themselves Tonight’s discussion will include the case of Mary Todd Lincoln and a presentation about the documents themselves

4 Early Life Born Mary Ann Todd on December 13, 1818 in Lexington, Kentucky to a prominent, well-to-do, slave-holding family Born Mary Ann Todd on December 13, 1818 in Lexington, Kentucky to a prominent, well-to-do, slave-holding family Mother Elizabeth died when Mary was 6 Mother Elizabeth died when Mary was 6 Father Robert remarried Elizabeth Humphreys in 1826 when Mary was 7 Father Robert remarried Elizabeth Humphreys in 1826 when Mary was 7 Poor relationship with step-mother Poor relationship with step-mother 14 siblings from father’s 2 marriages 14 siblings from father’s 2 marriages Attended finishing school learning fluent French Attended finishing school learning fluent French

5 Mary Todd Lincoln House, Lexington

6 Youth Moved to live with sister Elizabeth Edwards in Springfield, Illinois in 1839, age 20 Moved to live with sister Elizabeth Edwards in Springfield, Illinois in 1839, age 20 Courted by Stephen A. Douglas, many others Courted by Stephen A. Douglas, many others Married Abraham Lincoln, age 33, in 1842 when she was 23 Married Abraham Lincoln, age 33, in 1842 when she was 23 Her aristocratic family opposed the marriage as beneath her social standing; she and Lincoln broke off engagement but saw each other secretly Her aristocratic family opposed the marriage as beneath her social standing; she and Lincoln broke off engagement but saw each other secretly

7 Mary Todd Lincoln

8 Springfield Years Lincoln family lived mostly in Springfield through inauguration of 1861 Lincoln family lived mostly in Springfield through inauguration of 1861 Lincoln Home National Historic Site Lincoln Home National Historic Site

9 Lincoln Children All 4 children born in Springfield All 4 children born in Springfield Robert Todd Lincoln ( ); only child to survive into adulthood and outlive Mary; became prominent lawyer and diplomat Robert Todd Lincoln ( ); only child to survive into adulthood and outlive Mary; became prominent lawyer and diplomat Edward “Eddie” Baker Lincoln ( ) Edward “Eddie” Baker Lincoln ( ) William “Willie” Wallace Lincoln ( ; died while Lincoln was president) William “Willie” Wallace Lincoln ( ; died while Lincoln was president) Thomas “Tad” Lincoln ( ) Thomas “Tad” Lincoln ( )

10 Lincoln Family

11 Political Wife Avid political supporter of Lincoln Avid political supporter of Lincoln Often alone for long periods with the children Often alone for long periods with the children Deeply affected by death of Eddie of diphtheria or TB in 1850, short of his 4 th birthday Deeply affected by death of Eddie of diphtheria or TB in 1850, short of his 4 th birthday Developed reputation for being an unusually outspoken, unconventional woman-and often criticized for these traits Developed reputation for being an unusually outspoken, unconventional woman-and often criticized for these traits

12 Edward “Eddie” Lincoln

13 White House Years Deeply conflicted by Civil War Deeply conflicted by Civil War Brother was CSA surgeon; several half-brothers and a brother-in-law were CSA casualties Brother was CSA surgeon; several half-brothers and a brother-in-law were CSA casualties Publically was ardent supporter of husband’s attempts to preserve Union Publically was ardent supporter of husband’s attempts to preserve Union Unpopular and insecure first lady; loyalty questioned by political opponents Unpopular and insecure first lady; loyalty questioned by political opponents Never accepted into Washington society as a “westerner”; criticized as coarse, pretentious Never accepted into Washington society as a “westerner”; criticized as coarse, pretentious

14 White House Years Suffered severe bouts of depression, especially after death of Willie, age 11, in 1862, of typhoid Suffered severe bouts of depression, especially after death of Willie, age 11, in 1862, of typhoid Suffered head injury in carriage accident, 1863 Suffered head injury in carriage accident, 1863 Mood swings, irritability, public outbursts Mood swings, irritability, public outbursts Referred to by staff as the “hellcat” Referred to by staff as the “hellcat” Criticized for over-spending, especially on White House renovations, clothing—in attempt to satisfy critics who described her as “plump and plain” Criticized for over-spending, especially on White House renovations, clothing—in attempt to satisfy critics who described her as “plump and plain”

15 William “Willie” Lincoln

16 White House Years Behavior increasingly erratic following Willie’s death; Lincoln warned Mary she may be sent to an asylum Behavior increasingly erratic following Willie’s death; Lincoln warned Mary she may be sent to an asylum Took to bed; severe headaches; viewed by public as a hypochondriac Took to bed; severe headaches; viewed by public as a hypochondriac Became involved in spiritualism in attempt to contact her dead son; bilked out of “a small fortune” by mediums Became involved in spiritualism in attempt to contact her dead son; bilked out of “a small fortune” by mediums Her illnesses and behavior were widely reported and discussed Her illnesses and behavior were widely reported and discussed

17 Assassination and Aftermath Seated next to husband, holding his hand when he was shot at Ford’s Theater, April 14, 1865 Seated next to husband, holding his hand when he was shot at Ford’s Theater, April 14, 1865 Along with son Robert, stayed by President’s side through night until he died the next day Along with son Robert, stayed by President’s side through night until he died the next day Remained in White House for 5 weeks in state of deep grief Remained in White House for 5 weeks in state of deep grief Returned to Illinois where she lobbied Congress for a pension and friends for money Returned to Illinois where she lobbied Congress for a pension and friends for money

18 Prelude to Commitment 18 year old son Tad died in July, year old son Tad died in July, 1871 “Dropsy” or congestive heart failure “Dropsy” or congestive heart failure Grief exceed even that of previous deaths Grief exceed even that of previous deaths Troubled by rumors of Lincoln’s romantic fixation on his first love, Ann Rutledge Troubled by rumors of Lincoln’s romantic fixation on his first love, Ann Rutledge In March, 1875 during trip to Jacksonville, Florida suddenly became convinced that only surviving son Robert was deathly ill and took a train to Chicago, surprised to find him well In March, 1875 during trip to Jacksonville, Florida suddenly became convinced that only surviving son Robert was deathly ill and took a train to Chicago, surprised to find him well

19 Thomas “Tad” Lincoln

20 Erratic Behavior Told Robert she had been poisoned on train and her purse stolen by a “wandering Jew”, though no evidence of this Told Robert she had been poisoned on train and her purse stolen by a “wandering Jew”, though no evidence of this Jumped out of a window to escape a non- existent fire Jumped out of a window to escape a non- existent fire Spent thousands on jewelry, dresses, draperies which were never used Spent thousands on jewelry, dresses, draperies which were never used Walked around Chicago with $56,000 in bonds sewn into clothing Walked around Chicago with $56,000 in bonds sewn into clothing

21 Commitment Robert Lincoln consulted a number of physicians who recommended commitment Robert Lincoln consulted a number of physicians who recommended commitment Forcibly taken to court without having been advised of proceedings Forcibly taken to court without having been advised of proceedings Numerous witnesses against her; her attorney offered no defense Numerous witnesses against her; her attorney offered no defense Spending sprees, psychotic symptoms described Spending sprees, psychotic symptoms described May have attempted laudanum OD on learning verdict of insanity and commitment order May have attempted laudanum OD on learning verdict of insanity and commitment order

22 Financial Conservatorship Robert Lincoln also named conservator over Mary’s finances Robert Lincoln also named conservator over Mary’s finances He returned thousands of dollars in jewelry and clothing, much not yet paid for He returned thousands of dollars in jewelry and clothing, much not yet paid for

23 Robert Lincoln

24 Commitment Verdict “We the undersigned jurors in the case of Mary Todd Lincoln, having heard the evidence in the case, are satisfied that said Mary Todd Lincoln is insane, and is a fit person to be sent to a state hospital for the insane…” May 19, 1875 “We the undersigned jurors in the case of Mary Todd Lincoln, having heard the evidence in the case, are satisfied that said Mary Todd Lincoln is insane, and is a fit person to be sent to a state hospital for the insane…” May 19, 1875 Committed to the Illinois State Hospital for the Insane, but was allowed instead to be admitted to Bellevue Place, a private asylum in Batavia, Illinois Committed to the Illinois State Hospital for the Insane, but was allowed instead to be admitted to Bellevue Place, a private asylum in Batavia, Illinois Indefinite order of confinement Indefinite order of confinement

25 Hospitalization at Bellevue Place Did not show signs of mental illness during 4 month stay Did not show signs of mental illness during 4 month stay Given free rein of the grounds and allowed to leave premises to shop and socialize Given free rein of the grounds and allowed to leave premises to shop and socialize Robert assured his mother was content Robert assured his mother was content

26 Discharge Privately was lobbying for release Privately was lobbying for release Mary obtained the assistance of attorneys Myra and James Bradwell who mounted a press campaign to have her released Mary obtained the assistance of attorneys Myra and James Bradwell who mounted a press campaign to have her released Superintendent Dr. Richard Patterson was embarrassed by press coverage and declared her well enough to be discharged Superintendent Dr. Richard Patterson was embarrassed by press coverage and declared her well enough to be discharged She left on September 10, 1875, moving back to her sister Elizabeth Edwards’ Springfield home She left on September 10, 1875, moving back to her sister Elizabeth Edwards’ Springfield home

27 Aftermath A second trial was held in Chicago. On June 15, 1876 the jury declared her “restored to reason and capable to manage and control her own estate”. Robert was removed as conservator A second trial was held in Chicago. On June 15, 1876 the jury declared her “restored to reason and capable to manage and control her own estate”. Robert was removed as conservator Mary and Robert Lincoln never fully reconciled Mary and Robert Lincoln never fully reconciled She remained a recluse at Elizabeth’s home, rarely leaving her room She remained a recluse at Elizabeth’s home, rarely leaving her room In 1879 she suffered spinal cord injuries in a fall and never recovered. She died of an apparent stroke on July 16, 1882, age 63 In 1879 she suffered spinal cord injuries in a fall and never recovered. She died of an apparent stroke on July 16, 1882, age 63

28 Discussion What was Mary Todd Lincoln’s illness? Was her commitment justified? Described at the time as “insane” Has been posthumously diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, syphilis Most recent authors support bipolar disorder

29 Discussion Mary Todd Lincoln’s case has also been viewed through the prisms of feminism and anti- psychiatry Can we really apply modern diagnostic constructs to historical figures? My view is that any such attempt is doomed to failure—the case becomes a Rorshach test where we project our own concerns


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