Despite the social constraints of the time, Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln, played an important role in her husband’s political career, and Joe Coleman, a curator at the Mary Todd Lincoln House, suggested that had she been given the opportunity, she may have been a politician herself.
“[Mary] was very much involved in [Abraham Lincoln’s] political career at a scale that probably was unprecedented at the time,” said Coleman.
Coleman noted that Mary was an asset to her husband in more ways than one, coming from a prominent Lexington family and being a savvy political operative herself.
“First of all, her family was an asset to Abraham Lincoln,” he said. “When Lincoln was in Springfield, he was absolutely surrounded by Mary’s family. The Todds had pretty extensive social and political connections that Lincoln was able to take advantage of.”
Coleman also pointed out that Mary was more than a polished southern belle but had a deep understanding of politics herself.
“We know Mary herself loved politics,” he said. “One of the stories is that Lincoln would bring her poll numbers and would talk about recent election results.”
Had Mary been given the opportunity, Coleman believes that she could have had a prominent political career herself rather than focusing on her husband’s career.
“In many ways, Mary was interested, but she was always confined simply because of her gender and what role she could have played,” he said. “She was very willing to play that role, but I wonder what kind of politician she would have been if she was alive.”
“Instead of seeking out a husband in politics, she would have been seeking out her own career. I really do believe that,” he continued.
But Mary’s personality and refusal to disappear into the background made her a target for the media, Campos-Duffy said.
Coleman agreed, noting that the first lady was unwilling to play along with the expectations of her role at the time.
“Mary’s own personality, combined simply with the attitude of her times, really makes her an explosive figure for the press. Most president’s wives were famously behind the scenes, and Mary was reluctant to be so,” he said.
Despite her political savvy, Mary understood the power of the traditional role of the first lady and how that could support her husband.
“We know Mary liked to entertain, we know she liked parties, she understood the power that could bring her husband,” Coleman said.
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