Todd Lincoln house
stands amid bustling Lexington
expects increased visitors with bicentennial
Helen E. McKinney
LEXINGTON, Ky. (February 2008) While the next
two years will focus on the life of Abraham Lincoln, the life of his
wife must not be forgotten. Pivotal in Lincolns life was his soul
mate, Mary Todd Lincoln. Her childhood home still stands on a busy street
corner in downtown Lexington, where tourists can get a glimpse of what
this complex woman was like.
Todd family mementos can
be viewed during tours of the house.
The Mary Todd Lincoln House is dedicated to the memory
of Mary Todd, her family and their connection to Lincoln. Mary Ann Todd
was born into a life of ease and wealth on Dec. 13, 1818, in Lexington.
Her parents were Eliza Parker and Robert Smith Todd, both members of
socially and economically prominent Kentucky families.
The couple had six children all together. Eliza died on July 5, 1825,
when Mary was only 6 years old. It wasnt long before her father
sought a new mother for his brood of children.
He married Elizabeth (Betsy) Humphries on Nov. 1, 1826. Robert and Betsy
had eight children together, one child dying in infancy from each of
his two marriages.
In 1832, the family moved from Short Street into an elegant 14-room
double brick Georgian-style house on West Main Street, known today as
the Mary Todd Lincoln House. The home had been built between 1803-1806
by William Palmateer for use as an inn known as The Sign of the
Golden Tree. While the Todd family lived there, it was staffed
with slaves. This fact fueled one of many accusations that Mary was
a Confederate sympathizer during the Civil War.
Despite the loss of her mother at an early age, Marys childhood
seemed happy and full of opportunities. The fourth of 16 children, her
father was wealthy enough to foster Marys interests in education
and social graces. She received 12 years of formal education, something
not afforded most young women of the time. It has been stated that she
was probably better educated than most members of Lincolns Cabinet.
She entered Lexingtons Shelby Female Academy for a time and later
attended Madame Mentelles boarding school for girls in 1832.
Mary joined the other students in living at school during the week,
even though it was a short distance to the school. She lived at home
on the weekends. The school curriculum stressed the French language
and the art of dancing. Mary was one of the best students at Madame
Mentelles, and as a result received a wooden music box that is
on display at the Mary Todd Lincoln House.
This box, as well as other family mementoes, can be viewed through tours
of the home. Her father was a banker, an attorney, operated a mercantile
establishment on Cheapside and a cotton mill at Sandersville, and served
in Kentuckys General Assembly for 24 years. He had a long, prosperous
and distinguished career and was well known in the community.
One of the twin parlors in the Todd home at Lexington contained 350
books, a testament to his quest for knowledge. He often imparted this
knowledge to his children, allowing Mary to sit in the dinning room
or parlor after dinner (at a time when children usually did not do so)
and listen to the political conversations of the day. Such notable men
as Henry Clay, John J. Crittenden and Robert Jefferson Breckinridge
would gather in the Todds parlor for an evening of political exchange.
Mary spent three months in the summer of 1837 visiting her sister, Elizabeth
Edwards, in Springfield, Ill. When she returned to Lexington in the
fall, she took a position as apprentice teacher assisting 7 Ward at
the Shelby Female Academy.
Mary lived in her Lexington childhood home until 1839, at which time
she returned to Illinois to live with her sister Elizabeth and her family.
By this time, Mary had matured into a lovely, intelligent young woman.
She had grace and manners that soon propelled her into the social scene
where she was introduced to a rising lawyer named Abraham Lincoln.
In their upbringing, the couple was worlds apart. Nevertheless, by 1840
Mary and Abraham were engaged and married in 1842. And the rest of her
life, as they say, is history.
The Todd family lived in their Lexington home until 1849. Mary returned
in the fall of 1847 for a brief visit and brought her husband with her,
said Gwen Thompson, executive director of the Mary Todd Lincoln House.
The home was sold at auction upon the death of Marys father in
1849. It was occupied as a residence for a time, but by the latter 19th
and early 20th century, it had multiple uses. It housed various stores,
the upper rooms were rented out as apartments and it became a warehouse
in the 1960s.
The Mary Todd Lincoln House is owned by the Commonwealth of Kentucky
and maintained and operated by the Kentucky Mansion Preservation Foundation
Inc. Beula C. Nunn, wife of former Kentucky Gov. Louie R. Nunn, founded
this non-profit organization.
The home is an important part of our Kentucky history, said
Thompson. It is the first site to honor a First Lady.
One educational program offered this year at the home will be Mary
Goes to School. This traveling program will be taken into schools
by Mary Todd Lincoln House staff member and Mary Todd Lincoln interpreter,
The home has received funding for the conservation of certain Lincoln
artifacts, said Thompson. This includes a set of candelabras and paintings
completed while the Lincolns lived in the White House. Books owned by
Mary Todd Lincoln during the White House years and a playbill from the
night of Lincolns assignation is on display at the home.
The home was refurbished and opened to the public on June 9, 1977. The
home will open early this year for tours, beginning on Presidents
Day, Feb. 18, and running through Nov. 30.
Tours of the Mary Todd Lincoln house are offered
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with the last tour beginning
at 3 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $4 for children ages 6-12, and
free for children under 6. Group rates are available. For more information,
call (859) 233-9999 or visit: www.mtlhouse.org.
Back to Legendary