Mary Lincoln’s insanity case will be re-tried in Chicago and Springfield using modern attorneys

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln and the First Lady whose life was filled with tribulation, bizarre behavior and excessive spending, will be re-tried this year on allegations of insanity raised by her son, Robert Todd Lincoln.  A series of events, including the re-trials, will be announced on Monday, March 26 at 5:30 p.m. at 54 W. Hubbard Street in Chicago, site of Mrs. Lincoln’s original insanity trial, where actress Pam Brown, portraying Mary Todd Lincoln, will be served with a summons to appear in court later this year in Chicago on September 24 and in Springfield on October 1.  A reading of Mrs. Lincoln’s personal letters and a legal presentation of the insanity laws’ evolution in Illinois will also be featured at the March 26 announcement.

The re-trials are part of a year-long series of events marking Mrs. Lincoln’s life and emphasizing the evolution of mental health laws in Illinois. The events are produced and sponsored by the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.  Funds raised beyond the cost of the events will be used for the preservation of historic documents owned by both organizations.

The re-trials of Mary Lincoln will use modern-day lawyers and judges in a courtroom setting to give Mary Lincoln a hearing regarding her alleged insanity using current 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.  The audience will serve as the jury to engage them in the process, even though juries do not currently decide mental competency hearings.  The re-trials will take place at Chicago’s Murphy Auditorium at 50 E. Erie on September 24 and at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield on October 1.

Mrs. Lincoln was tried in 1875 at the instigation of her son Robert on allegations of insanity, which ultimately led to her being declared a “lunatic” and placed in the Bellevue Sanitarium in Batavia, Illinois.  Mary Lincoln obtained an early release from Bellevue with the assistance of her friend, Myra Bradwell.  One year after the original insanity trial another jury found her sane, restoring her legal control over her assets.  Even today, historians disagree whether the evidence against the First Lady was “trumped up,” whether the procedures used constituted due process, and what would occur if today’s modernized health laws were applied to the same facts.

Another event in the series will feature a round table discussion on mental health issues featuring historians, attorneys and mental health professionals, and will be held Monday, April 16 at 5:30 p.m. in the State Capitol Building in Springfield.  The final in the scheduled series of events, the “culture of clothing,” will feature Mary Todd Lincoln’s life and fashions as a homemaker, the First Lady, and a widow in mourning after the loss of three sons and a husband. This special show will take place in the Driehaus Museum in Chicago on November 12, where the dresses she had made, the jewelry she wore, and the long lasting elements of design that she created will be used to demonstrate the changing roles of women through fashion.  The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield will have a similar event on November 19.

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.

Ticket information for this year’s series is available on the event website,  The March 26 media reception is free and open to the public, but reservations must be made by calling (217) 558-8881.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum ( is the nation’s largest and most visited presidential library complex, and immerses visitors in Lincoln’s life and times.  The Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission ( assists the Supreme Court in acquiring, collecting, documenting, preserving, and cataloging documents and artifacts important to the history of the Illinois judicial system.