Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of President Abraham Lincoln, was the 16th First Lady of the United States. The fourth-born of sixteen children, she sparked controversy in almost every aspect of her life.
Mary was notorious for over-shopping, and she completely redecorated the White House after she and Lincoln moved in. One year, she purchased 400 pairs of gloves. For herself. While Mary was an extravagant shopper, Mary was also a bold abolitionist. Growing up in Lexington, Mary’s family owned slaves. Her first-hand experience with slavery informed her ardent conviction in its abolition.
After witnessing her husband’s assassination, Mary was changed. Her changeable moods were well documented before his death, and ever-present after. Her son institutionalized her ten years after Lincoln’s death. She rebelled against her internment and freed herself. Mary died at the age of 63 in her sister’s home in Springfield, Illinois.
Mary Todd Lincoln was born in Lexington, Kentucky and raised in a nine-bedroom house off Main Street. Although a small city at the time, Lexington was called the Athens of the West, and compared with sophisticated metropoli across the country. Political figures could often be seen at Mary Todd’s home, and Senator Henry Clay lived just two blocks away from the Todds.
Because of a flaw in his will, the house and all of its contents were put up for auction when her father died in 1849. Fortunately, they kept a list of all sold items, which made it easier for restoration. In 1977, the house opened as a museum, the first of its kind to honor a first lady. With a total of 14 rooms, the house is fashioned with decorations of its period.
Detailed, thoughtful restoration makes this historical home museum a jewel of Lexington. Another jewel within a jewel is its unique hair wreath. There is a wreath hanging on the first floor near the staircase. Check it out. It’s made of human hair. It was donated to the estate after the museum was opened by an elementary school class, who collected hair samples from their classmates and wove it into a wreath. Each sample of hair is labelled.