By Megan Klintworth
Amid the global pandemic that has impacted all our lives over the past year, many people have attempted to pick up some new hobbies to pass the time in quarantine. For some, it was baking bread. For others, it was putting together jigsaw puzzles. If you’re still looking to try something new in 2021, perhaps you can look to Abraham Lincoln’s great-granddaughter, Mary Lincoln “Peggy” Beckwith, for inspiration.
Although Peggy was the penultimate surviving Lincoln descendent, she chose a relatively quiet lifestyle. Rather than embracing the social-elite status that could have come as a member of the Lincoln family, Peggy was often found tending to the dairy farm at Hildene, the Lincoln family estate in Vermont.
Young Peggy cleaning a gun at Hildene (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum)
One of the more surprising pastimes that she took up was flying airplanes. In the early 1900’s, women had only just begun breaking into the field of aviation. However, that didn’t stop Peggy, as she earned her pilot’s license in 1931 and owned three planes. She even built a landing strip near the family estate.
She also had more common hobbies including golfing, painting, and sculpting. Most of her surviving art pieces contain images of still life and architectural landscapes. Perhaps some of these portraits capture the imagery in and around Hildene.
Some believe Peggy created these works of art to escape the pressures of being a Lincoln or to push against the social norms of that era. Most of us don’t have the means or courage to take up flying like Peggy, but maybe we can honor her legacy by spending an afternoon relaxing and painting.
Painting by Peggy Beckwith (ALPLM)
How was Peggy related to Abraham Lincoln? She was the daughter of Warren Beckwith and Jessie Harlan Lincoln, who was the daughter of Robert Todd Lincoln. Born in 1898, Peggy lived until 1975. Her brother, Robert, was the last living descendant of Abraham Lincoln.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum holds a collection of material relating to the great-grandchildren of President Lincoln thanks to a donation from Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, prior to his death. Come in later this year to see a couple of Peggy’s watercolors on display at the ALPLM.
Siblings Robert Lincoln Beckwith and Mary Lincoln “Peggy” Beckwith, the last direct descendants of Abraham Lincoln. (ALPLM)
Megan Klintworth is the ALPLM's iconographer.