More than 100 years ago, in Chicago in the late 19th century, Robert Lincoln, the lawyer son of Mary Todd Lincoln, had his mother committed to an insane asylum in Chicago. Mary Lincoln believed it was because he wanted to gain control of her fortune. Nonetheless, the commitment of Mary for one year in an insane asylum and the subsequent trial are a 100 year old struggle between the elderly that want to avoid confinement, and a facility and child that wants to control someone else’s finances:
After Mrs. Lincoln nearly jumped out of a window to escape a non-existent fire, her son determined that she should be institutionalized.
Mrs. Lincoln was committed to a psychiatric hospital in Batavia, Illinois, in 1875. After the court proceedings, Mary was so enraged that she attempted suicide. She went to the hotel pharmacist and ordered enough laudanum to kill herself. However, the pharmacist realized what she was planning to do and gave her a placebo. (Note a good lawyer would have questioned why anyone would assume a quantity of laudanum is assumed to be consumed all at once? Use of laudanum throughout the day was common for people suffering with paid–as Vicodin, Oxycontin, etc. are used today. But for the purposes of the trial, she bought it and was going to kill herself with all of it in one dose.)
[Many believe the charges were trumped up, exaggerated, and in some cases, fabricated. Moreover, the fact that she was a spiritualist and held seances regularly throughout her life, did not help her case. This is despite the fact it was she who told the President the war would not end until he freed the slaves and that God/dess abhorred slavery. That prediction came true and within months of freeing the slaves, the war ended.]
On May 20, 1875, she arrived at Bellevue Place, a private sanitarium in the Fox River Valley. Three months after being committed to Bellevue Place, Mary Lincoln engineered her escape. She smuggled letters to her lawyer, James B. Bradwell, and his wife, Myra Bradwell, who was not only her friend but also a feminist lawyer and fellow spiritualist. She also wrote to the editor of the Chicago Times. Soon, the public embarrassments Robert (who now controlled his mother’s finances) had hoped to avoid were looming, and his character and motives were in question. The director of Bellevue, who at Mary’s trial had assured the jury she would benefit from treatment at his facility, now in the face of potentially damaging publicity declared her well enough to go to Springfield to live with her sister as she desired. She was released into the custody of her sister, Mrs. Elizabeth Edwards, in Springfield and in 1876 was once again declared competent to manage her own affairs. The committal proceedings led to a profound estrangement between Robert and his mother, and they never fully reconciled.
Mary was confined for only a year and the bad publicity let her go free where she lived out her years far from a son that had her committed.
What about the rest of the Marys?
From the SunTimes today, in honor of Mary Lincoln:
MARY TODD’S DAY IN COURT
BY DAVID ROEDER
Staff Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary Todd Lincoln will get her day in court — two days, in fact — even if it’s 130 years after her death.
The wife of the nation’s 16th president saw her husband killed and buried three of the couple’s four children. Her only surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, got her committed to an asylum in Batavia after her behavior became alarmingly erratic, but the decision was overturned a year later.
She died in 1882, broken by grief and suspicious of her son’s motives.
Historians debate whether the 19th century legal system treated her justly in labeling her insane.
To dramatize how changing laws affect the mentally ill, two state agencies are sponsoring mock retrials this fall of Mary’s insanity case.
They will be held Sept. 24 at the Murphy Auditorium, 50 E. Erie, and at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield Oct. 1. Monday, actress Pam Brown, portraying Mary, will receive her “summons” to appear those dates. She will be served at 5:30 p.m. at 54 W. Hubbard, site of her original insanity trial. The Lincoln museum and the Illinois Supreme Court Historical Preservation Commission are producing and sponsoring the events. They said funds raised beyond production costs will be used on preservation of historic documents.
Tickets are available for the retrials and other events planned in connection with Mary’s life. Information is available at was marylincolncrazy. com .
The events include a roundtable discussion of mental health issues April 16 at the State Capitol in Springfield and a yet-tobe- scheduled dramatization of the relationship between Mary and her friend and advocate, Myra Bradwell, who helped free her from the asylum. The show will be based on letters they wrote to each other.
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