Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mary Todd Lincoln - I Know You Better Now

One of the supporting characters in the Lincoln drama was his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. During this bicentennial year of Lincoln’s birth, much has been speculated about Mary’s mental condition. I submit that Mary Todd Lincoln has been mislabeled and maligned, even today, by people who do not credit her for withstanding an inordinate amount of tragedy.

Let’s look at the facts:

Mary Todd Lincoln’s mother died when she was seven. She lost her second-born son before he turned four, her third son died shortly after she became First Lady, and a beloved brother died in the Civil War. As First Lady, she was not accepted by Washington society. Being a Southern woman married to a Northern president, neither side welcomed or trusted her. Both thought she was a traitor. No friends or support here.

Then her husband was shot just inches away from her. Anyone who watches CSI knows what that means. The word “spatter” should convey the idea. Then Mary was pulled forcibly from her dying husband’s side because her grief was considered an inappropriate display of emotion.

Following her husband’s death, Mary was inconsolable and suffered a terrible depression coupled with great fear. Finally, her third son died before he reached adulthood.

Mary Todd Lincoln suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. No therapy or counseling for Mary, however. Instead, her eldest son had her followed and then forced into a mental institution.

What does all this have to do with communication?

It demonstrates what effective communication can accomplish. Thanks to the excellent work of the historical institutions in Springfield, this woman suddenly became real to me. Mary Todd Lincoln is no longer a shadow behind the 16th President. She stands on her own. And I admire her.

BTW – I recently discovered I am not alone in my assessment of Mary Lincoln. Read Anna Quinlend’s column in Newsweek.

No comments: