The idea of home looms large in Mary Lincoln’s story. Growing up in relative opulence due to profits from the labor of enslaved people in Lexington, Kentucky, Mary spent much of her adult life trying to reclaim that sense of comfort and position. She and Abraham’s Springfield home became an expression of Mary’s ambition and domestic priorities—literally growing the longer she lived in it, including the addition of an entire second floor.
In Washington, Mary obsessed over the Executive Mansion and worked hard to make its appearance match its status after years of neglect. Yet Abraham’s assassination disrupted everything, and Mary never again reclaimed her sense of domesticity and stability. Mary resented the unwanted attention drawn by her widowhood and as a figure of controversy. To escape her immense grief and anxiety, Mary even relocated to Europe.
Yet the comforts of home continued to elude her as she continued to move from place to place, including a tragic, forced stay in an insane asylum.
A pocket watch with its mechanical parts removed that Mary used to carry photographs of her husband and children.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Gift of Alice B. Colonna, 2005