Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Was Mary Todd Lincoln Mentally Ill?

By Robert McNamara

Question: Was Mary Todd Lincoln Mentally Ill?  The one thing everyone seems to know about Abraham Lincoln's wife is that she suffered from mental illness. But is that even true?

Answer: The simple answer is that we don't know, as she was never diagnosed by anyone with a modern understanding of psychiatry. However, there is ample evidence of Mary Lincoln's eccentric behavior, which, in her own day, was generally attributed to "madness" or "insanity." Her marriage to Abraham Lincoln often appeared difficult or troubled, and there were incidents of Lincoln gently complaining to others about things she had said or done.  And it is true that Mary Lincoln's actions, as reported by newspapers, often invited criticism from the public. She was known to spend money extravagantly, and she was often ridiculed for perceived haughtiness.

And, public perception of her was greatly influenced by the fact that she was actually put on trial in Chicago, a decade after Lincoln's assassination, and judged to be insane.  She was placed in an institution for three months, though she was able to bring legal action and reverse the court's decision.....To Read More....
 
My Take - Over the years I've read a number of commentaries about Mary Todd Lincoln, some in a effort to defend her and others - not so kind.  Based on all I've read over the years my observations tend toward the 'not so kind' category. 
 
There a number of things about Mary Todd Lincoln's mental state that are insightful regarding that time. First off, if she hadn't been Lincoln's widow she would be remained in that institution. It's also clear that many women ended up there for displaying difficult personalities while going through menopause, and I have often wondered how many ended up there because their husbands wanted to get rid of them. 
As for her being insane – I think she was clearly unstable, and had been for all of her life.  The fact she married Lincoln when there were other more eligible bachelors available is instructive!   
Lincoln wasn’t well off, was uncouth by the social standards of the day, and clearly was an ugly man, but she needed someone who would tolerate her abusive behavior, someone she could mold, someone who would be patient, compliant and most importantly, someone who wouldn’t beat her – which was not an uncommon occurrence in that day when dealing with difficult wives…..and even wives that weren’t difficult.   It’s been my experience that these types instinctively know who they can push around.  As she aged her instability merely became harder to control, especially since she seemed to be a perpetual whiner who was oblivious of the concerns of others.  As for her son’s behavior – that’s another sordid story!

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