The Madness Of Mary Lincoln
by Jason Emerson
Southern Illinois University Press
Description from the back cover:
“This compelling story of the purposed insanity trail of one of America’s most tragic first ladies covers Mary Lincoln’s life from childhood to death and asserts that she suffered from bi-polar disorder. Utilizing a set of letters that had been lost for eighty years, Jason Emerson shows how Mary Lincoln’s predisposition toward psychiatric illness and a life filled with mental and emotional trauma led by her son, Robert T. Lincoln, to commit her to an insane asylum. Named Book of the Year by the Illinois State Historical Society, The Madness of Mary Lincoln is a gripping historical page turner.”
This one had me turning pages quickly! The Madness of Mary Lincoln was recommended to me by a one of the women who worked at the Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. She was a volunteer historian and Lincoln specialist. There are a million books written on Abraham Lincoln and his crazy wife, Mary. Of course I’m interested in history but more specifically, the “dirt” that remains in history! lol What can be more dirty than an insanity trial where a presidential son puts his mother into an asylum? Much has been written about the insanity of Mary Lincoln but this one was recommended because it’s a little different due to it’s extensive reference and research, also the fact that the author based his book on the “lost insanity letters”. Not much has been written with these lost letters in mind. VERY interesting and if you read it, you just might come away with a new feeling for Mrs. Lincoln and new insight into her illness.
I’d read much about how “insane” Mary Lincoln was and with the other books came a feeling that I would truly not like the woman. I’d always felt that I’d despise her son, Robert, too. What son puts his mother in an insane asylum after all she’d gone through just to put his hands on his family’s fortune? Ahhhh,, SO not true were my beliefs. First of all, it might surprise you to know that the Lincoln fortune really didn’t exist, as far as fortunes of the late 1800’s go. Robert L. Lincoln had quite a lot of money in his own right and didn’t need his mother’s money. Another thing I realized after I finished this book was that Robert really did love his mother and felt completely burdened by her actions and by her insanity. He was a tortured soul who didn’t WANT to have his mother committed or declared insane. It became necessary to protect her from herself. After reading this book, I had a whole new sympathy for Robert, the only surviving son of Mary and Abraham Lincoln.
I also walked away knowing that I would have probably REALLY liked Mary Lincoln! I’m almost afraid to admit this but I saw a lot of similarities between her personality and my own. Okay maybe not when she became paranoid or manic, but when she was demanding and “wanted what she wants when she wants it”. THAT part. I’m that way too. I felt tremendously sorry that she just kept living after losing 3 of her sons and the husband that shielded her from reality. She’d pretty much lost every reason to WANT to live. I’m wondering how many of US could live after so much tragedy? Untimely death didn’t just begin with her children, it started with the death’s of her mother and father and then sisters and brothers. Wow. I can tell you that I’d be insane too! She didn’t want to live anymore and she did whacky things. I’m pretty sure I would have too.
I still have questions about whether she was truly insane. I see the similarities in her behavior and the behavior of my step daughter who’s also been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. The question remains with some mental health workers, whether or not Mary Lincoln was “emotionally insane” – insanity brought on by living through so much tragedy and sadness – or “mentally insane”. There’s also a question now about whether or not her behavior was brought on by physical illness. Maybe she wasn’t insane at all but she suffered from illness that had no diagnosis back then. Some people think so. A reoccurring theme with Mary Lincoln was that even during her “insanity” , she communicated with family and friends in a lively and “sane” way. I guess we probably wouldn’t even believe she was insane if we’d met her today. However, those who knew her best, witnessed self destructive habits. Even suicidal tendencies. Again, I seriously don’t blame the poor woman for wanting death to come quickly. Who knows what any of us would do if we walked a mile in HER shoes? Many people who attended her funeral say that she appeared to have died with a smile on her face. Like she was finally at peace. Poor woman.
I’d give this book 2 thumbs up based on the amount of research that went into writing. There were also more facts than I’d ever heard about and it painted a clear picture of what Mary Lincoln’s personality was like. I really enjoyed it and didn’t find the writing style to be dry, as so many other historical books are. I finished this one a LOT quicker than I thought I would 🙂