Born in December of 1818, Mary Todd– as she was then
known– had a long and difficult life ahead of her. She was a
well-educated woman, and after marriage, more commonly known as Mary Todd
Lincoln. She served as the First Lady of the United States from 1861-1865
beside President Abraham Lincoln. Previous to her title of First Lady, she
served as a US congresswoman in Washington and also supported her husband’s
political career, actively helping him seek out a position that supported his
desired path (Regula, 1994). What seemed to be a well adjusted life was actually
quite dark for Mrs. Lincoln. Some describe her as being mad, with a dark past
and a sad journey.
It has been debated in the past as to whether or not
Lincoln was mentally ill. Some believe that Lincoln may have been suffering
from a version of Bipolar Disorder because of her extreme levels of happiness,
sadness, and intense anger.
If Lincoln did in fact suffer from Bipolar Disorder, she
would need to have a manic episode, followed by either a hypomanic episode (a
more mild form of a manic episode), or a major depressive episode (DSM-5,
Some examples of a manic episode are as follows:
Increased energy or activity (DSM-5, 2013).
Decreased need for sleep (DSM-5, 2013).
Flight of ideas (DSM-5, 2013).
Involvement in activities that could cause
severe consequences, such as buying sprees, unnecessary investments, etc.
Possible need for hospitalization, or present
psychotic features (DSM-5).
examples of a major depressive episode are as follows:
Depressed mood for most of the day, almost every
day (DSM-5, 2013).
Loss of interest in activities (DSM-5, 2013).
Psychomotor agitation, whether observed by the
self or others (DSM-5, 2013).
Thoughts of death, and possible suicide attempt
Causes impairment in functioning (DSM-5, 2013).
Some of the symptoms for Mania can be seen in Lincoln’s
behavior prior to her time as the First Lady, one specifically being that she
frequently over-spent money. Before living in the White House, she once added
an entire floor to their home without consulting her husband about it
beforehand (Dick, et al., 2010). Likewise, it could be assumed that the
symptoms for a major depressive episode can be seen when Lincoln attempted to
take her own life, after her son charged her with insanity (Dick, et al.,
Moving onto the Big-5, created by Norman, et al. Mary
Todd Lincoln would probably fit well into two of the different personality
dimensions. First, I believe that she would fit into the conscientiousness
dimension. This dimension focuses on people who are dutiful, disciplined, and
achievement oriented (John, et al. 1999). Given Lincoln’s outstanding
educational background (especially for women of this time), her desire to help
her husband’s political movements, as well as her role in congress, I believe
this shows the traits of conscientiousness well. However, Lincoln could very
well fit into the neuroticism dimension. This dimension focuses on individuals
who are depressed, impulsive, and angry (John, et al. 1999). This is evident
due to her demeanor after multiple deaths in her family, as well as the
assassination of her husband in 1865, which as stated above, lead to a very
unforgiving relationship with her only living immediate family member; her son
Robert (Frost, 2001).
Lincoln had many unfortunate events that could have lead
to her rather bizarre behavior, most of them involving deaths of people close
to her. When she was only six years old, her mother died from an infection
after childbirth, and once her father remarried, she felt alone, which is why
she concentrated so much on her schooling (Frost, 2001). Making her schoolwork
her priority growing up likely paved the way to her substantial role for a
woman of her time period; keep in mind this was in the early 1800’s when women
were expected to stay home, cook, clean, and care for children.
Lincoln and her husband raised four male children
together, but time after time, she was struck with many tragedies as she
outlived all but one of them. She lost one to tuberculosis, one to a fever, and
one to lung disease (Frost, 2001). Just when it didn’t seem like things could
get any worse, she was sitting next to her husband, Abraham Lincoln, when he
was assassinated at Ford’s Theater in 1865. People began calling her a
“professional widow,” and she remained in black clothing for the 17 years
preceding her own death (Frost, 2001). Her only remaining son, Robert, thought
that she was a “lunatic,” and knew that her spending habits would quickly
interfere with his inheritance. Using her seemingly odd habits as an excuse, he
tried her for insanity, where an all-male jury found her guilty and forced her
into an insane asylum for four months until her lawyer was able to declare her
as “restored to reason,” (Frost, 2011). She then traveled Europe, only
returning home for two years before her death in 1882 (Frost, 2011).
Given the many unfortunate experiences with death that
Lincoln had, it is not difficult to see why she was prone to depression and
anger. Knowing the instances of odd behavior as well as the criteria for
certain dimensions of the Big-5 and Bipolar Disorder, placing her in these
categories seems to fit well.