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The Dark Days of Abraham Lincoln's Widow As Revealed by Her Own Letters

Myra Helmer Pritchard Edited and Annotated by Jason Emerson

Publication Year: 2011

The Dark Days of Abraham Lincoln’s Widow, written in 1927 by Myra Helmer Pritchard but never before published, is based on letters between Mary Lincoln and her close friend Myra Bradwell, Pritchard’s grandmother. Jason Emerson edited and annotated the text.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Front and back flaps

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Copyright Page

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p. v-v

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p. vii-vii

This book would not have been published without the assistance and permission of Fred C. Towers, Judy Reemtsma, and Dorcy Burns, the children of Frederic N. Towers, Robert T. Lincoln’s former attorney, who allowed me complete access to the contents...

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Editor's Introduction

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pp. ix-xviii

Mary Lincoln is one of the most fascinating—and most written about—First Ladies in American history. She has many admirers, as well as numerous detractors. The former group typically lionizes her as a strong, proud, intelligent woman who was her husband’s political partner—even the true intellect...

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Chapter 1

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pp. 2-23

My grandfather, Judge James B. Bradwell of Chicago, was Mrs. Abraham Lincoln’s attorney before, during, and after the period she was incarcerated, at the instigation of her son Robert T. Lincoln, in Dr. R[ichard] J. Patterson’s private hospital for the insane [Bellevue Place] at Batavia, Illinois. During this time—from 1872 to 1878—Mrs. Lincoln carried on an extensive correspondence...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 24-39

After her visit to Springfield in December 1865 for her husband’s reburial from the public holding vault to a temporary tomb, Mary Lincoln wrote to her friend Mary Jane Welles that the visit “convinced me, that the further removed, I am, the better, it will be, for my reason, from that spot.” Mary in fact owned the Lincolns’ old home...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 40-59

Women, even the most courageous women of culture and refinement, cannot adapt themselves to abrupt changes of position and fortune as readily as men. Not so much because they are afraid, nor because they are unwilling to accept the altered conditions of life—whether they be for the better or worse—but because...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 60-71

Perhaps it was a concept of imagination formed in the minds of a saddened people, or it may have been really true that in 1865 Spring did come early and bestow her gifts lavishly. It may have been ordained as a colorful gesture of nature in recompense for the dark shadow of grief that was to mantle the official city on the Potomac and the nations. The fact remains that you will read of April in Washington being a month of beauty, soft, flowering beauty...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 72-89

Something within us prompts sympathy for the vagabonds, the wanderers. Because their feet continually stir strange dust, their eyes ever “These,” we say, “are lost people. Aimlessly they tread roads that have no end; embark upon journeys that have no destination. How lost they are since theirs is a path through scenes that change with the days!” There is pathos...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 90-101

In 1875 the position of Abraham Lincoln in American history still was highly controversial. People gifted with far vision regarded him much as we of today regard him, but there were thousands, yes hundreds of thousands, who continued to speak of him as a tyrant, a butcher, a spoilsman. Abraham Lincoln was dead and the grave protected him, but Mary Todd Lincoln, his widow, lived—if incarceration...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 102-115

Continued protestations and demands for action on the part of my grandparents at last had released Mary Todd Lincoln from Dr. Patterson’s private sanitarium for the insane at Batavia, Ill., after four months incarceration there. What joy to her to be once more free, to view the sunlight through windows without bars! But there were limits...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 116-131

Mary Todd Lincoln at liberty, possessing the signed verdict of a jury pronouncing her sane, and freed by court order from a conservatorship that had deprived her of any voice in her own affairs, became a different woman. To her these meant vindication, justice, and she accepted them eagerly. Her demeanor underwent...

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Chapter 9

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pp. 132-149

In the fall of 1876 Mary Todd Lincoln took up her residence in France, where she found the peace and tranquility that had been denied her. During this period her letters to my grandparents were in a calmly sympathetic vein, in striking contrast to the wrathful accusatory missives in which she charged her son, Robert T. Lincoln, with incarcerating her...

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Editor's Epilogue

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pp. 150-153

There were many occurrences in Mary Lincoln’s life between her return to the United States in October 1880 and her death in July 1882 that Myra Pritchard omits but should be added to the story. The most relevant in regard to Pritchard’s manuscript—and some would argue the most important overall...


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pp. 157-175


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pp. 177-181


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pp. 183-186

Author Bios

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p. 187-187

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809386048
E-ISBN-10: 0809386046
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809330126
Print-ISBN-10: 0809330121

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 5 B/w halftones
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Lincoln, Mary Todd, 1818-1882 -- Correspondence.
  • Mental illness -- United States -- Case studies.
  • Lincoln, Mary Todd, 1818-1882.
  • Bradwell, James B. (James Bolesworth), 1828-1907 -- Correspondence.
  • Lincoln, Mary Todd, -- 1818-1882 -- Mental health.
  • Presidents' spouses -- United States -- Biography.
  • Bradwell, Myra, 1831-1894 -- Correspondence.
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