The Mary Lincoln Enigma: Historians on America's Most Controversial First Lady

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Overview

Mary Lincoln is a lightning rod for controversy. Stories reveal widely different interpretations, and it is impossible to write a definitive version of her life that will suit everyone. The thirteen engaging essays in this collection introduce Mary Lincoln’s complex nature and show how she is viewed today.

The authors’ explanations of her personal and private image stem from a variety of backgrounds, and through these lenses—history, theater, graphic arts, and psychiatry—they ...

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Overview

Mary Lincoln is a lightning rod for controversy. Stories reveal widely different interpretations, and it is impossible to write a definitive version of her life that will suit everyone. The thirteen engaging essays in this collection introduce Mary Lincoln’s complex nature and show how she is viewed today.

The authors’ explanations of her personal and private image stem from a variety of backgrounds, and through these lenses—history, theater, graphic arts, and psychiatry—they present their latest research and assessments. Here they reveal the effects of familial culture and society on her life and give a broader assessment of Mary Lincoln as a woman, wife, and mother. Topics include Mary’s childhood in Kentucky, the early years of her marriage to Abraham, Mary’s love of travel and fashion, the presidential couple’s political partnership, and Mary’s relationship with her son Robert.

The fascinating epilogue meditates on Mary Lincoln’s universal appeal and her enigmatic personality, showcasing the dramatic differences in interpretations. With gripping prose and in-depth documentation,  this anthology will capture the imagination of all readers.

Univeristy Press Books for Public and Secondary Schools 2013 edition

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Mary Todd Lincoln was controversial while alive, and she remains controversial to this day. Historians at one extreme see her as mentally unstable, corrupt, and abusive to her spouse. At the other end of the spectrum are those who believe she was an intelligent and gifted woman who played a key role in her husband’s success. The Mary Lincoln Enigma assembles valuable new contributions to this debate by some of the most eminent experts on Mary and her time. This thought-provoking book belongs on the shelf of everyone interested in the lives of Mary and Abraham Lincoln.” —Burrus Carnahan, author of Act of Justice: Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Law of War and Lincoln on Trial: Southern Civilians and the Law of War

“This provocative collection goes a long way toward demolishing the one-dimensional caricatures that have dogged Mary Lincoln over the last century and a half. Leaving no controversial subject unaddressed, each chapter brings original research together with the insights of a wide-ranging assortment of experts in history, law, psychiatry, fashion, and the arts, and confronts the enduring myths with hard realities. Sensitively written and multifaceted in focus, this volume eschews simplistic conclusions in favor of opening new questions and embracing conflicting answers about the precise dimensions of Lincoln’s life. A compelling and important book about an ‘enigmatic’ nineteenth-century woman.”—Amy Murrell Taylor, author of The Divided Family in Civil War America

 

“The topics and controversies discussed in these pages by a group of talented historians include Mary Lincoln’s childhood, views on race, travels, role as first lady, and the tragic aftermath of her husband’s assassination. There is a great deal to be learned here, whether one is new to the study of Mrs. Lincoln or seeking to comprehend the latest scholarly debates. Highly recommended!” —Thomas R. Turner, editor of The Lincoln Herald 

 

“This splendid, essential book presents a nuanced, sensitive, and kaleidoscopic reconsideration of the life of Mary Todd Lincoln; of her part in our understanding of her husband’s life and career; and of her own considerable historical and cultural significance. The first-rate team of scholars contributing to this volume write with clarity, grace, and rigor.  Any reader will benefit from this volume’s moving reconsideration of one of our most controversial and tragic First Ladies.” —R. B. Bernstein, author of The Founding Fathers Reconsidered and Thomas Jefferson

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780809331246
  • Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press
  • Publication date: 6/29/2012
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 392
  • Sales rank: 740,454
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Former Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court Frank J. Williams is founding Chair of The Lincoln Forum. He is the author or editor of many books on Abraham Lincoln, including Judging Lincoln and The Living Lincoln.

Michael Burkhimer teaches American history in the Haverford, PA, school district. He is the author of 100 Essential Lincoln Books and Lincoln’s Christianity.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction Frank J. Williams 1

There's Something about Mary: Mary Lincoln and Her Siblings Stephen Berry 14

Mary Lincoln, Race, and Slavery Brian Dirck 36

Life at Eighth and Jackson Richard Lawrence Miller 60

"An Unladylike Profession": Mary Lincoln's Preparation for Greatness Kenneth J. Winkle 82

William H. Herndon and Mary Todd Lincoln Douglas L. Wilson 112

"I Am so Fond of Sightseeing": Mary Lincoln's Travels Up to 1865 Wayne C. Temple 140

Fashion Plate or Trendsetter? Donna McCreary 186

The Reports of the Lincolns' Political Partnership Have Been Greatly Exaggerated Michael Burkhimer 219

A Psychiatrist Looks at Mary Lincoln James S. Brust 237

"I Miss Bob, so Much": Mary Lincoln's Relationship with her Oldest Son Jason Emerson 259

Mary Lincoln among the Novelists: Fictional Interpretations of the First Lady Richard W. Etulain 281

"I Look Too Stern": Mary Lincoln and her Image in the Graphic Arts Harold Holzer 305

Epilogue: The Compelling Mrs. Lincoln Catherine Clinton 349

Contributors 367

Index 369

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  • Posted October 2, 2013

    Fourteen historians tackle the popular misunderstandings associa

    Fourteen historians tackle the popular misunderstandings associated with Mary Todd Lincoln. In both popular culture and academic circles, the First Lady, verifiers and sympathizers. The Mary Lincoln Enigma: Historians on America's Most Controversial First Lady offers a variety of interpretations of Abraham Lincoln's wife, who had a role in both politics and society.

    Mary Lincoln as a sibling, as a child in a household with slaves, a a socialite and hostess, as a mother with sons and as as a European traveler are considered. Her depiction by novelists and graphic artistic are offered. Each of the authors have written books on the Lincolns.Each of the essays are between 20 and 40 pages. The authors' narratives are direct and to the point, neither meandering nor discursive.

    In is not necessary for readers to have an Abraham or Mary Lincoln biography under their belt. No insider information is needed to enjoy The Mary Lincoln Enigma: Historians on America's Most Controversial First Lady. Several of the essays have appeared in other publications and some may have been portions of other chapters in other books. Overall, The Mary Lincoln Enigma functions as a kaleidoscope for Mary Lincoln's life.

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