Library of Congress Magazine (LCM), Vol. 1 No. 2: November-December 2012 Page: 27
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A MOTHER'S GRIEF
GIFTS FROM GENEROUS INDIVIDUALS, GROUPS AND ORGANIZATIONS THROUGHOUT
THE WORLD HELP THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS FULFILL ITS MISSION.
MARY TODD LINCOLN LIVED A LIFE FULL OF
TRAGEDY and sorrow: Her mother died when
Mary was very young. Mary witnessed the
assassination of her husband, Abraham Lincoln.
And three of her four children died of disease
before reaching adulthood.
The Manuscript Division recently acquired a
letter written by the first lady that reveals the
depths of the despair she felt upon the death of
one of those children, 11-year-old Willie, less
than a year after the Lincolns moved into the
William Wallace Lincoln, the third of the
Lincolns' four sons, contracted typhoid in early
1862 - presumably from drinking contaminated
water drawn from the Potomac River - and died
on Feb. 20. Inconsolable, Mary rarely left her bed,
didn't correspond with anyone for months and
refused to enter Willie's bedroom again. She fell
into such deep grief that her husband feared for
Of the small number of known letters written
by Mary during 1862, the letter acquired by the
Library is considered the best document of the
profound effect - the "crushing bereavement," as
she described it - of Willie's death on her.
"We have met with so overwhelming an affliction
in the death of our beloved Willie, a being
too precious for earth, that I am so completely
unnerved, that I can scarcely command myself
to write," she wrote to Julia Ann Sprigg, an old
friend from Springfield, Ill.
The death of Willie, followed by the assassination
of her husband in 1865 and the death of her son
Tad from tuberculosis in 1871, deeply affected
Mary, and her behavior became increasingly
erratic. In 1875, Mary's only living child, Robert
Todd Lincoln, committed her to an asylum. She
later engineered her own release, traveled for
several years in Europe and, in 1882, died at the
home of her sister in Springfield.
"Willie was the Lincolns' favorite child, and his
death was a severe blow to the entire family,"
A letter written by Mary Todd Lincoln, pictured
right, to her friend Julia Ann Sprigg in May
1862. Manuscript Division
said Michelle Krowl, a curator in the
Manuscript Division. "Mary's grief,
and her awareness of the severity of
her bereavement, is so palpable in her
letter to Mrs. Sprigg."
-Mark Hartsell is the editor of
the Library's stafnewspaper,
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November/December 20121 www.loc.gov/lcm 27
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Office of Communications, Library of Congress. Library of Congress Magazine (LCM), Vol. 1 No. 2: November-December 2012, periodical, November 2012; Washington, D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc133017/m1/29/: accessed March 1, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .