If you’ve ever visited our Hall of Presidents and First Ladies you’ve seen the area’s only complete wax collection of American Presidents and First Ladies. You’re likely more familiar with the great Presidents in these halls, but the strong women in the Hall of First Ladies were just as vital to the heritage and prosperity of this nation. We pay homage to these great women in a regular blog series here at Gettysburg Tour Center that highlights those First Ladies featured in our amazing display.
Our third feature in this series is Mary Ann Todd Lincoln, wife to Abraham Lincoln. A key figure in our nation’s history, she helped him get through the difficult Civil War and unfortunately also bore witness to his tragic assassination at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865.
Mary was born in Lexington, Kentucky, and as has been the theme with our first ladies she was born into a wealthy family. Mary’s father was a successful politician and businessman, who sadly saw his wife Eliza Parker pass away when Mary was only six. While Mary struggled with her relationship with her stepmother, she still saw a privileged childhood where she received an excellent education.
Mary developed a love and interest in politics and political issues at a young age. An outspoken supporter of the Whig party, Mary met Abraham through these shared interests. Abraham was not as fortunate in his early life, and came from a poor family. Coupling this with also being nine years older than Mary, her family did not approve of the match.
Mary was crucial to helping Lincoln advance his political career. He admired and valued her judgment, and she helped him achieve the distinction as the nation’s first Republican president. While not the most popular first lady, Mary also had some significant achievements during her time in the White House:
- She refurbished and redecorated the White House
- An active visitor to Union army camps, she worked as a volunteer nurse in Union hospitals and helped raise soldier’s morale.
- She was the first presidential wife to be referred to as the “First Lady.”
Even though Mary had lived a privileged childhood, her adult life was very difficult. Only one of her children outlived her, she saw her husband assassinated as she sat next to him, and she battled with health issues which some have suggested as bipolar disorder, severe depression, anxiety, and more.
Mary died of illness at the age of 63 in December of 1818, and is now buried next to Abe in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. We encourage you to check out the Hall of Presidents and First Ladies on your next visit to Gettysburg to learn more about these fascinating First Ladies, as well as their presidential counterparts.