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 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. 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 will partner in a series of events to educate and inform the public about Mary Lincoln's insanity episode and modern-day mental health issues.
On April 16, the first event will feature historians, attorneys, and mental health professionals in a roundtable discussion.Two panels will examine
1) the environment of Mary Todd Lincoln, her life, and her mental health issues; and
2) the insanity trial from a modern-day perspective.
On September 24 and October 1, the re-trials of Mary Todd Lincoln will use modern-day lawyers and judges in a courtroom setting to give her a hearing regarding her alleged insanity using modern-day laws. Actors portraying Robert Lincoln and Mary Lincoln, in period costume, will testify, as well as an expert witness—a mental health professional—for each side.
On November 12 and 19, the culture of clothing will be the final event in the scheduled series and will feature Mary Todd Lincoln's life and fashions as a homemaker, the First Lady, and a widow in mourning.
A theatrical project bringing the relationship of Mary Lincoln and her advocate, Myra Bradwell, to life will be developed from their correspondence with Springfield actors Susan Jeffers and Aasne Vigesaa. Performance dates in Chicago and Springfield will be announced.