The Insanity Retrial of Mary Todd Lincoln (2012)

In 1875, Robert Lincoln, the only living son of martyred President Abraham Lincoln, petitioned to have his mother Mary Lincoln institutionalized for insanity. Robert Lincoln was concerned about her eccentric behavior and excessive spending habits. A jury found her insane, and she was taken to Bellevue Place Sanatorium in Batavia, Illinois. While there, she argued that she was sane and enlisted the assistance of Myra Bradwell and others to obtain her release. The doctor in charge at Bellevue and Robert Lincoln consented to her early release into the care of Mary Lincoln's sister in Springfield, Illinois. One year after the trial, another jury found Mary Lincoln sane, restoring her legal control over her assets. In 2012, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission partnered in a series of events to educate and inform the public about Mary Lincoln's insanity episode and modern-day mental health issues.

  • In April, the first event featured historians, attorneys, and mental health professionals in a roundtable discussion. The first panel examined the environment of Mary Lincoln, her life, and her mental health issues; and the second panel discussed the insanity trial from a modern-day perspective.
  • In June, the Commission and the ALPLM partnered with the Illinois State Board of Education for a teachers workshop. Nine teachers from across Illinois attended the workshop to learn about Mary Lincoln’s life, the legal status of women, and Lincoln’s insanity case. The teachers created a two-week lesson plan under the new Common Core guidelines.
  • In September and October, the retrials of Mary Lincoln featured modern-day lawyers and judges in a courtroom setting to give her a hearing regarding her alleged insanity under modern-day laws. Actors portraying Robert Lincoln and Mary Lincoln, in period costume, testified, as well as an expert witness — a mental health professional — for each side.
  • In November, the extravagant exuberance of Mary Lincoln was on display in two culture of clothing events. These events examined the historical importance of clothing for women and highlighted Mary Lincoln's life and fashions as a homemaker, the First Lady, and widow in mourning.
  • In January and March 2013, two performances of “Mary and Myra, written by New York playwright, Catherine Filloux, examined the visits by Myra Bradwell to Mary Lincoln during Lincoln’s stay at Bellevue Place sanitarium.
  • In February 2013, WTTW, a public television station in Chicago, broadcast an edited production of The Insanity Retrial of Mary Todd Lincoln. The program was a 90-minute production of the retrial that had taken place at the Murphy Auditorium in Chicago in September 2012. WTTW distributed the program to PBS stations across the state and to C-SPAN, giving the production statewide and national exposure. The WTTW production was nominated for a regional Emmy award for Outstanding Achievement for Informational/Instructional Programing – Program/Special/Series/Feature/Segment. The award ceremony was held in November 2013, and the Insanity Retrial lost to a Wisconsin production.

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