Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Mary Lincoln: An Annotated Bibliography Supplement

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Mary Lincoln: An Annotated Bibliography Supplement

Article excerpt

In the summer 2010 issue of the JISHS I was pleased to have included my annotated bibliography of Mary Lincoln - a listing and description of more than two hundred writings, a feat never before accomplished in Lincoln studies. I explained in the introduction to that work that my bibliography was not exhaustive or definitive, but that I selected nonfiction entries (books and articles) I believed to be "necessary to read in order to fully understand - or even write a basic book on - Mary Lincoln's life." The fiction, poetry, and drama entries were as definitive as I could make them.

Compiling and annotating that bibliography was one of the most enjoyable and satisfying tasks I have ever undertaken as a historian; and since its publication I have continued to watch for additional Mary Lincoln materials unknown to me and not included in my previous work. I have subsequently found nearly three dozen additional writings that I believe merit inclusion into any bibliography - with the majority of them being from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There also have been some new materials on Mary published or underway since my last effort, and those (including a few works of my own) have been included as well. Additionally, I see now, thanks to some suggestions and constructive criticism from my peers in the Lincoln field that a handful of items I purposefully excluded for various reasons from my original bibliography should not have been left out. I now take the opportunity to rectify my omissions.

In this supplement to my previous work are, I believe, some of the most exciting entries in the Mary Lincoln bibliography. Some are small pieces inside a larger work, some from obscure newspapers, and some so simply rare as to explain why I missed them the first time, and how difficult it was to dig them out at all.

The entries below contain some fascinating aspects of Mary Lincoln's life commonly known, such as her domestic life in Springfield, her years as First Lady, her belief in Spiritualism, her attempts to sell her White House clothing, her mental health, and her historical legacy. There also are entries concerning those aspects of her life largely unknown or overlooked: her travels throughout Europe in the 1870s, her patriotism, her childhood and early education, the French tribute to her in 1867, and even what her granddaughter thought of her when asked in the 1880s.

All of these items, whether succinct or verbose, whether large or small, are additional pieces to the fascinating and incomplete puzzle of the historical figure of Mary Lincoln. They add further illumination to what remains a largely misunderstood and misinterpreted life of one of America's most captivating first ladies.


1. Mumler, William H. The Personal Experiences of William H. Mumler in Spirit-Photography. Colby and Rich, 1875. Mumler's memoir contains his recollection of Mary Lincoln visiting his Boston studio in 1872 to have her spirit photograph taken. The resulting image - now infamous - contained the "spirits" of Abraham and Tad Lincoln hovering over Mary's shoulders. This recollection is a retelling by Mumler of the event as he previously described and published in The Spiritual Magazine in 1872. Unlike that article, which simply related the visit, in his memoir Mumler embellishes the event to include his wife "almost instantly" going into a Spiritualist trance, being "taken over" by Tad - whom Mumler mistakenly claimed identified himself as "Thaddeus" - who then had a "long conversation" with his mother. Reprinted in Louis Kaplan, The Strange Case of William Mumler, Spirit Photographer (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 92-93.

2. Swisshelm, Jane Grey. Half a Century. Chicago: Jansen, McClurg & Company, 1880, 236-37. Autobiography of Swisshelm, a noted abolitionist during the Civil War, in which she recalls her first meeting with President and Mrs. Lincoln at a White House reception. …

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