The Insanity File: The Case of Mary Todd Lincoln by Mark E. Neely Jr.In 1875 Robert Todd Lincoln caused his mother, Mary Todd Lincoln, to be committed to an insane asylum. Based on newly discovered manuscript materials, this book seeks to explain how and why.
In these documents—marked by Robert Todd Lincoln as the MTL Insanity File—exists the only definitive record of the tragic story of Mary Todd Lincoln’s insanity trial. The book that results from these letters and documents addresses several areas of controversy in the life of the widow of Abraham Lincoln: the extent of her illness, the fairness of her trial, and the motives of those who had her committed for treatment. Related issues include the status of women under the law as well as the legal and medical treatment of insanity.
Speculating on the reasons for her mental condition, the authors note that Mrs. Lincoln suffered an extraordinary amount of tragedy in a relatively few years. Three of her four sons died very young, and Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. After the death of her son Willie she maintained a darkly rigorous mourning for nearly three years, prompting the president to warn her that excessive woe might force him to send her to that large white house on the hill yonder, the government hospital for the insane.
Mrs. Lincoln also suffered anxiety about money, charting an exceptionally erratic financial course. She had spent lavishly during her husband’s presidency and at his death found herself deeply in debt. She had purchased trunkfuls of drapes to hang over phantom windows. 84 pairs of kid gloves in less than a month, and $3,200 worth of jewelry in the three months preceding Lincoln’s assassination. She followed the same erratic course for the rest of her life, creating in herself a tremendous anxiety. She occasionally feared that people were trying to kill her, and in 1873 she told her doctor that an Indian spirit was removing wires from her eyes and bones from her cheeks.
Her son assembled an army of lawyers and medical experts who would swear in court that Mrs. Lincoln was insane. The jury found her insane and in need of treatment in an asylum. Whether the verdict was correct or not, the trial made Mary Lincoln desperate. Within hours of the verdict she would attempt suicide. In a few months she would contemplate murder. Since then every aspect of the trial has been criticized—from the defense attorney to the laws in force at the time. Neely and McMurtry deal with the trial, the commitment of Mary Todd Lincoln, her release, and her second trial. An appendix features letters and fragments by Mrs. Lincoln from the Insanity File. The book is illustrated by 25 photographs.
Mary Todd Lincoln Became a Laughingstock After Her Husband’s Assassination
Her son had her committed. She said it was so he could get his hands on her money. Now, years after this bitter and controversial drama, a trove of letters—long believed destroyed—sheds new light on it. I endeavor to read my Bible and offer up my petitions three times a day. But my afflicted heart fails me and my voice often falters in prayer. I have worshipped my son and no unpleasant word ever passed between us, yet I cannot understand why I should have been brought out here.
The one thing everyone seems to know about Abraham Lincoln's wife is that she suffered from mental illness. Rumors spread through Civil War era Washington that Mrs. Lincoln was insane, and her reputation for mental instability persists to the present day. But are those rumors even true? The simple answer is that we don't know with any medical certainty.
President and Mrs. Lincoln's Troubled Courtship and Marriage
The assassination of Abraham Lincoln emotionally destroyed his wife. But perhaps no woman as resilient, bright, and cunning as Mary Todd Lincoln, was better suited to brave such difficult times. Wikimedia Commons Mary Todd Lincoln as a young woman. She was, nonetheless, a complicated woman. Todd Lincoln was born on Dec. Her mother died in childbirth and left her father a widower with seven children, of whom Mary Todd was the fourth. Only a few months later, her father proposed to another woman and then remarried.
She dropped the name Ann after her younger sister, Ann Todd Clark , was born, and did not use the name Todd after marrying. Mary was a member of a large, wealthy Kentucky family, and was well educated. After finishing school during her teens, she moved to Springfield, Illinois , where she lived with her married sister Elizabeth Edwards. She and Lincoln had four sons together, only one of whom outlived her. She supported her husband throughout his presidency.
Part courtroom drama, part medical inquiry, The Insanity Retrial of Mary Todd Lincoln brings the past into the present. In , Robert Todd Lincoln, son of the late President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, petitioned the court to commit his mother to an asylum on charges of insanity. Hosted by Bill Kurtis, the trial is re-enacted with a modern-day judge, practicing attorneys, and mental health experts who use facts based on actual witness statements from the trial. The program was videotaped at the Murphy Auditorium in Chicago in front of an audience — who serve as the jury. Learn about the travails and tragedies of the former first lady and vote on whether the evidence presented is enough to involuntarily commit Mary Todd Lincoln for inpatient treatment of a mental illness.