- Paperback: 415 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (January 19, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060760419
- ISBN-13: 978-0060760410
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 51 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #161,898 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Mrs. Lincoln: A Life Paperback – January 19, 2010
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“Noted historian Catherine Clinton manages to enlighten readers, confirm some well-documented stories, question others and offer additional insights into one of the most complicated fist ladies in American history. . . . Clinton has allowed history to make a more fair-minded appraisal of Mary Lincoln’s life.” (The Courier-Journal)
“We can never get enough of Lincoln, and we can never get enough of his family. Catherine Clinton’s fascinating book feeds that hunger.” (Ken Burns)
“Clinton’s careful research and thoughtful presentation result in the best treatment of the troubled life of Mary Lincoln in recent memory. . . . Mary was, and continues to be, controversial, but, as Clinton submits, she remains a figure of great color, worthy of continued interest.” (Booklist (starred review))
“Our most controversial first lady, Mary Lincoln was reviled by her critics and few historians have treated her kindly. Lively and entertaining, Mrs. Lincoln will cause readers to rethink the stereotypes about Mary—and perhaps to question some of their beliefs about her husband as well.” (David Herbert Donald, author of Lincoln)
“As wife and widow of America’s greatest president, Mary Lincoln was the focus of cruel controversies in her lifetime and among historians ever since. With sensitivity and empathy, Catherine Clinton brings us the real Mary Lincoln—a tragic yet compelling figure.” (James McPherson)
“In this remarkable book, Catherine Clinton displays an emotional depth in her understanding of Mary Lincoln that has rarely been revealed in the Lincoln literature. This engaging, wonderfully written narrative provides fresh insight into this complex woman whose intelligence and loving capacities were continually beset by insecurities.” (Doris Kearns Goodwin)
“Clinton’s portrait is distinctive for its abiding sanity, its deft and in-depth handling of the White House years, and for the consistent quality of its prose.” (Joseph Ellis)
From the Back Cover
Abraham Lincoln is the most revered president in American history, but the woman at the center of his life—his wife, Mary—has remained a historical enigma. One of the most tragic and mysterious of nineteenth-century figures, Mary Lincoln and her story symbolize the pain and loss of Civil War America. Authoritative and utterly engrossing, Mrs. Lincoln is the long-awaited portrait of the woman who so richly contributed to Lincoln's life and legacy.
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Mary Todd Lincoln was born the daughter of a Lexington banker and businessman Robert Todd. As a child men like Henry Clay were guests in her mansion. Her family was large with many children produced by Todd and his two wives. Mary did not like her stepmother. She decided to leave Lexington for the frontier town of Springfield, Illinois to live with her sister Elizabeth who was married to Ninian Edwards son of a former governor of Illinois. Mary had been well educated, was fluent in French, enjoyed the poetry of Burns and the Romantics and knew her Shakespeare. She was raised Episcopal but would later join Presbyterian churches in Illinois and in Washington, D.C.
Mary was five feet tall and weighed 120 pounds., She was acerbic, witty and hot blooded often throwing tantrums. She met Lincoln in Springfield and decided to wed the ill educated, rawboned complex Kentuckian. She and Abraham wed in November, 1842 in her sister Elizabeth's Springfield parlor. Both of the Lincolns were ambitious intellectuals interested in politics.
Mary saw Lincoln serve in the Illinois House of Representatives, lose two races for the US Senate from Illinois and become a well to do lawyer in the eighth Illinois Circuit. The family was beset by tragedies. Mary saw her son Eddie die in 1850, Willie at the White House and in 1871 her son Tad who was only eighteen. She also saw her husband murdered before her eyes by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theatre on Good Friday 1865.
Mary was the first president's wife to be known as "The First Lady." She is among the most controversial of all first ladies in league with such notable women as Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Rodham Clinton. She was hated and scorned by many during the Civil War who were cave dweller aristocrats in Washington. Among the reasons Mrs. Lincoln were loathed were these factors:
1. She was a Southern woman thought by some to be a Confederate spy! Two of her half brothers died in Confederate Grey at Shiloh and Baton Rouge. Mary, however, was a staunch Unionist who visited army hospitals to comfort the wounded. She supported the freeing of the slaves.
2. Mary often sought to meddle in national politics to her husband's disgust. She was involved in the early release of Lincoln's speeches to the press and was abrasive in her treatment of other politicians, their wives and the spouses of leading Union generals. She hated Grant's wife Julia Dent Grant and younger and prettier women. She could be warm and loving but also a tempest when her dander was up. Nicolay and Hay the secretaries of Lincoln called her "The Hellcat!
3. Mary was an inveterate shopaholic who spent wildly in New York at famous department stores such as A.T. Stewarts. She spent thousands on renovation of the White House.
4. Mary was institutionalized in a genteel mental hospital following her husband's death. We cannot be sure but she did have moments when her behavior could be quite bizzare. She fell out with her Harvard educated oldest son Robert when he put her in the hospital. She hated Robert's wife Mary Harlan Lincoln and was estranged from her sole surviving son's wealthy family.
Mary spent her last sad years as a traveler and resident in Europe especially in Pau France. She returned to America dying at the home of her sister Elizabeth in Springfield in 1882.
This new biography is well researched and written. Clinton is good at exploring Victorian culture and the lives of women in nineteenth century America. She is also good in exploring the topic of spiritualism which attracted Mary's attention. It has never been easy to be a woman and Mary Lincoln lived a life of triumph and also tragedy. She was a bright person who was beaten by the forces of history which captured the lives of her husband and three of her sons. She deserves our pity and understanding.
I would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in First Ladies, Lincoln, the Civil War or politics in general.