MAY 13, 2010

Mary Todd Lincoln visits Pierce as part of Sesquicentennial Celebration

By Greg Gerot

Janet Worthington presenting as Mary Todd Lincoln. Janet was the special speaker for Pierce’s May Sesquicentennial event.   The City of Pierce played host to a reenactment of Mary Todd Lincoln, sponsored by the Idaho Humanities Council, on Saturday, May 8 at the Community Center. 

   Introduced as “Mary Todd Lincoln”, Janet Worthington, special speaker for Pierce’s May Sesquicentennial event, did not leave character for a bit more than an hour. The audience snuggled into the center’s conference room for the question and answer session with Mrs. Lincoln. 

   Dressed in a beautiful pink gown adorned with yards of ecru lace and with flowers in her hair, Mrs. Lincoln transported us to the life and times of a Nation wracked by Civil War and were treated to a wife’s perspective of the Man of that period.  Of course, parallel to Lincoln’s presidency was the discovery of gold in Pierce in the fall of the year he was elected.  That winter 60 some men camped at the new discovery’s location and laid out the town they named after E.D. Pierce. 

   Many assume that Mary Todd Lincoln was an irrational, over bearing and neurotic wife to the man, however what the audience of 30 or so was treated to this Mother’s Day weekend was a heartwarming understanding of a loving wife’s efforts to protect her husband by keeping him on a regular schedule with his family, meals and outings together.

   Her view regarding him was that, if she did not require him to take dinner with the family or venture out for a carriage ride daily, he would simply not leave his office but continue to work.  She portrayed how difficult it was for him to lay aside for even short periods of time the burden of leading the Nation in the midst of the horrors of the Civil War.

   One of the questions asked during our time with Mary was how she met her husband. Her answer was so endearing, lovely and complex. She stated that when she first met him “she knew he was the one immediately.”  She described him as an up and coming politician and that she knew he would be President of the United States some day.  She described how they courted for seven months and the courtship was broken off, only to be regathered a year later through mutual friends.  (Lincoln is said to have suffered greatly during this time).

   They decided to get married the next day. Her great love and admiration for her famous husband showed through so clearly that we were touched, even transported to see and feel the emotional bond the two shared.  It was out of this great love that she explained what the press of the time took as her irrational behavior in her attempts to protect the great man she was married to. 

   We also caught a tender glimpse into the pain both Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln faced together in the deaths of three of their four sons, Tad, Edward, and Willie.  Mrs. Lincoln told us how each child’s death had devastated her and that Willie’s death (a child she said “everyone loved” and who died while they were in the White House) was such heartache for her that she could not get out of bed for a month. 

   Also, as a result, she wore black for a year. Of course, the press of the time did not treat her kindly as she worked her way through her deep grief. She was called selfish, a shrew and controlling, but some things never change and often times, as it is today, the press is cruel as if it were open season on those who are in the public eye.

   Mary also explained another topic for which she and Mr. Lincoln were often criticized for…the lack of discipline when it came to their children. She related that the reason for their lenient attitude toward them was tied to their having lost so many to death. They just wanted to enjoy them while they had them. 

   While gazing through the window of Mary Todd Lincoln’s perspective of her husband, we continually saw a kind, gentle man with enormous understanding and loving patience for her. We saw how their deep affection for one another supported him in a time of unbearable difficulty, burden and grief.   We caught a glimpse of Lincoln’s soul as a family man.

   We also saw the devastating effect his death had on her. We saw how she had to cope with the immediate loss of her husband and her place in life. She portrayed to us the difficulty of facing a future which would no longer be defined by her husband and how alone and fearful she felt. She explained to us why she did some of the things she did after her husband’s death as she tried to compensate for all the forces that were bombarding her. 

   She related to us her low of lows…..being committed to an asylum after appearing before a jury….an action which had been initiated by her only then living son, Robert. What loneliness! What betrayal! And yet, through a year of letter writing and her own tough perseverance, she was eventually deemed of sound mind and able to continue with the pieces of her life.  Her relationship with her son Robert remained strained for the rest of her life. 

   A heartfelt thank you goes to the Idaho Humanities Council for sponsoring such a memorable event, and to Janet Worthington for such an energetic and genuine portrayal of a sadly misunderstood and complicated lovely first lady! We were refreshed, touched, and delightedly proud to claim as our own a fresh insight into one of the most famous and historically significant presidency’s of this our beloved United States.  As we celebrate Pierce’s Sesquicentennial, we celebrate the era of one of the greatest statesmen to have ever lived, and we now know behind every great man is a truly remarkable woman.