National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Born Lexington, Kentucky
First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln was intelligent and witty—a devoted wife and an attentive mother. She was also keenly supportive of her husband’s political career and was the first to realize his potential for national leadership and the presidency. Todd wished to marry the young and relatively unestablished Lincoln contrary to the wishes of her socially prominent relatives, with whom she was living at the time of her engagement.
This photograph by Mathew Brady shows the new first lady in a festive ball gown a year before the death of her eleven-year-old son, Willie, who succumbed to typhoid fever in February 1862. Thereafter she dressed mostly in black. Willie’s death precipitated his mother’s rapid psychological decline, which became severe after the president’s assassination in April 1865.