Explore the childhood home of Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of the sixteenth president of the United States–the first landmark to honor one of our country’s leading ladies.
History is not always kind in its characterizations of Mary Todd Lincoln. In her day, Confederate sympathizers considered Mary’s marriage a betrayal of her Southern heritage. Acceptance proved difficult in the nation’s capital, where her loyalty to the Union was questioned. The First Lady was often snubbed socially, and her personal life was fraught with tragedy and conflict. However, the Mary Todd Lincoln House in Lexington, Kentucky, preserves a more genteel perspective of the woman who won the heart of Abraham Lincoln.
Decorated to represent the Lincolns’ tenure in the Oval Office during the 1860s, this opulent ladies’ parlor includes carved-rosewood méridienne settees, Meissen porcelain, and White House china Mary commissioned to symbolize her patriotism.
Built as an inn and tavern in the early 1800s, the fourteen-room abode suited the large Todd clan. Mary was the fourth of seven born to her mother, Elizabeth Parker Todd, who died when the girl was six. Her father, prominent businessman Robert Smith Todd, married Elizabeth “Betsy” Humphreys two years later, and they had nine children. Although Lexington comprised fewer than seven thousand citizen when the affluent family bought the residence in 1832, the town’s prosperity and culture fostered comparisons to Philadelphia and Boston.
Mary lived in the late-Georgian mansion from ages 13 to 21. In 1839, Mary joined her eldest sister in Springfield, Illinois, where she met Abraham. She was petite, privileged, and fiery tempered, while he was gentle and quietly intellectual. Love of politics and poetry united the two, and although their courtship was tumultuous, contemporaries said there was never a more devoted couple. He affectionately called her Molly; she pronounced him “truly my all.” They wed in 1842.
The Lincolns spent three weeks in Lexington in 1847, unaware that the Todds’ fortune would soon change dramatically. Just two years later, the Main Street home and its contents were lost when a cholera epidemic claimed the life of Mary’s father. The property fell into disrepair during the ensuing century. The property reopened to the public in 1977 as one of the few historic sites associated with a woman, and the first to venerate a commander-in-cheif’s spouse.
To see more of the Mary Todd Lincoln House, see “An Ode to Molly” in the October 2014 issue of Victoria magazine.