Truth about Mary Lincoln explored in biography

Mackenzie Freund, Staff Reporter

Along with explaining 10 common myths about Mary Lincoln, Eastern graduate Stacy McDermott also addressed the people she called “Mary

Historian Stacy McDermott speaks of how forward thinking Mary Todd Lincoln was during her presentation Friday in room 1849 of the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union.
Missa Borah
Eastern alumna and author Stacy McDermott speaks of how forward thinking Mary Todd Lincoln was during her presentation Friday in room 1849 of the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union.

haters” who have negative ideas about the former first lady on Friday.

McDermott spoke about the research leading up to her biography called “Mary Lincoln: Southern Girl, Northern Woman.”

McDermott said she became a research associate at the Lincoln Legal Papers in November of 1996, and she has studied the Lincoln family over the last 19 years.

McDermott is the assistant director and associate editor of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln and, through her research, has made many discoveries about the whole Lincoln family.

“The biggest challenges that I had when starting out was finding some sort of an angle to help me condense Mary’s nearly 64 years of life and not leave out anything that mattered,” McDermott said.

McDermott said even though others had warned her that Mary Lincoln was crazy, she let herself get inside her head so she can have an idea of how Mary saw the world around her.

“Reading Mary Lincoln’s letters not only opened up her real life to me, it also exposed me to some of my own biases,” McDermott said.

When she got to the letters dating between 1868 and 1871, she said she realized she wanted to write a biography of a 19th century woman who was doing the best she could.

McDermott then listed 10 things she wanted her audience to know about Mary, the first being her name.

She said Mary Lincoln was Mary Anne, until her sister Anne was born. She then became Mary Todd until she married Abraham.

Her second point was that Mary and Abraham saw marriage as more than just economic; they wanted to find a relationship with love and friendship.

McDermott also put a message out to the “Mary haters,” people who give out false ideas about Mary Lincoln, saying that Abraham chose Mary because he loved her.  She then talked about how extraordinary Mary’s education was.

“At a time when most women never attended school and those that did only spent about two to five years in school, Mary spent 10 years in two very forward thinking academies in Lexington, Kentucky,” McDermott said.

She said because of the education Mary received, she was always willing to try new things and she often had a forward way of thinking.  Mary grew up in an education-based household where she was always encouraged to learn new things.

McDermott said Mary and Abraham spoiled their children with material objects, pets and even birthday parties.

“It was not common to throw birthday parties for children as it is today,” McDermott said. “It was virtually unheard of.”

McDermott said there is some evidence that some historians may diagnose Mary with bipolar disorder and having manic phases along with other physical problems.

She said she believes some of the main reasons there are so many “Mary haters” is predominantly sexist, but some historians believe Mary is actually a bad person.

Amy Wywialowski, a graduate history student, said this would be a great opportunity to learn about Mary since she studied Lincoln.

“I thought it was cool how (McDermott) had her 10 points,” Wywialowski said. “This is what you’ve heard, and this is what I want you to know.”

McDermott said after the discussion that she would like “Mary haters” to know that she was not a bad person.


Mackenzie Freund can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]