Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Was She Crazy, Quirky, or Misunderstood?

Big news on the "reenactment" front...for those of you that are into reenacting things. What? You don't get thrills by participating in historical events of yesteryear? OK...  Normally, I can't say that my interests  lie in that area either.  I have not once attended a Civil War reenactment as I am pretty clear how the story ends. 

Still, I couldn't help but notice a news clip about the retrials being held to determine if Mary Todd Lincoln was or was not insane. The sold out event was sponsored by the  Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. They have put together a prestigious panel of real-life judges, lawyers, doctors and assorted experts to weigh in on both the judicial process and the determination of sanity related to Mary Todd Lincoln's first trial.

Thought Number One: Was Mary Todd Lincoln Crazy?

Can we all agree, how great we all look in our hats???

There is a dedicated web site that covered the proceedings aptly named,  Was Mary Lincoln Crazy?. I found numerous others, though, that gave more background information.  ( why ....yes...I do realize that I am a nerd....thank you for asking!!)

So here in 2012 a group of judges, lawyers, mental health professionals, and audience participants confab to decide if the 1875 jury got it wrong when after a whole ten minutes of deliberation  the verdict came back:

"We, the undersigned jurors in the case of Mary Todd Lincoln, having heard the evidence in the case, are satisfied that said Mary Todd Lincoln is insane, and is a fit person to be sent to a state hospital for the insane..." (jury verdict on May 19, 1875).

I gather that the purpose of the retrial was not only to shed light on what changes have evolved in the perception of mental illness, but also, to educate the public as to differences in today's legal process.

Mary Todd Lincoln's case incorporated a number of issues including limited women's rights, biases, and public perceptions.  Even after 137 years historians are still divided on if she was insane or if she was railroaded by a kangaroo court. 

The events that might of contributed to her behavior and  led  to her being tried.
  • She lost three of her four sons and had bouts of serious depression.
  • All through her husband's presidency she had been scrutinized and vilified.
  • She was holding her husband hand at the theatre as he was assassinated. 
  • She had suffered a serious head injury in a carriage accident.
  • There were on-going rumors of her husband being unfaithful with Anne Rutledge.
  • She had a number of irrational fears including fear of being alone, fire, and poverty.
  • She relied extensively on mediums and attended seances regularly to communicate with her deceased family members.
  • She wavered between extravagant spending sprees and at other times she hoarded money such as sewing money into the lining of her clothing.
 One of the final straws that led Robert, her sole remaining son, to have her committed was when she went to New York City and arranged with merchants to try to sell her old clothes.  This became a huge scandal. This act of desperation to acquire money to pay down her debts became infamous.  ( a couple of web sites that give additional  insight to some of these events  are Mary Todd Lincoln Research Site and Mary Todd Lincoln ) 

As to the actual trial, Mary did not realize that a public trial awaited her, and was forcibly taken to the courthouse on May 19, 1875, by Leonard Swett, a lawyer who knew both Robert and her late husband.  Isaac Arnold, a family friend who reluctantly became her defense attorney, did not contest the case, and allowed 17 witnesses to testify to her unstable condition, while not calling any witnesses of his own. During the trial, Robert testified, "I have no doubt my mother is insane. She has long been a source of great anxiety to me." On the same day of her being brought to court, she was tried and sentenced to be committed to a state institution for the insane. She was allowed, however, to be admitted into a private institution in Batavia, Illinois.

How scandalous in 1875!
Today we would call that a consignment store.

Thought Number Two:  The Retrials Sided with Mary

Both the retrials found that by today's laws, that she would not have been involuntarily committed. There are no clear answers as to what her real emotional or physical health was.  There has long been speculation that she suffered from a bi-polar disorder and clinical depression.  Of course, she might of just been eccentric. 
No matter, what her issues were, it is clear that she did not get a fair trial.



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Bodaciousboomer said...

I live in a constant world of reenactment just trying to remember what I did 5 minutes ago,

Cheryl P. said...

Hahahah...hopefully 137 years from now people won't be still discussing
"Was Bodacious Boomer nuts or was she just odd???

oldereyes said...

Well, in my opinion, quirky and misunderstood, but not crazy. It's no surprise that a modern jury would not commit her. Depression, eccentricity and bipolar syndrome are no longer enough. For the most part, that's a good thing although the rules and privacy laws have been pushed so far the other way that people dealing with severe issues (say schizophrenia) have a hard time getting their loved ones into a safe situation. I enjoyed this post ... I didn't know much about Mary Todd Lincoln's plight.

I just love her son, Robert's, self-centered statement: I have no doubt my mother is insane. She has long
been a source of great anxiety to me. He's anxious ... so she's insane I suspect at the time the verdict would have been different if it were the other way around, Mary trying to commit Robert for sever anxiety.

Cheryl P. said...

I had just a cursory knowledge of her trial and subsequent confinement but when I saw the retrial article I had to start looking around the Internet (of course...me being me). A number of articles made that point that everything dealing with her rush to a trial was spearheaded by men and had a lot to do with how men regarded women. There was a lot of sub-issues involved in this case. Several articles brought up the fact, that if Mary had access to modern drugs she wouldn't of had the burden of dealing with her extreme depression and most likely wouldn't have been acting out in such odd ways.

As for Robert, he stayed estranged from his mother the rest of her life. All I can say is, if all the parents of the world that are considered crazy by their kids were to be locked up...let's just say there would be a room shortage in mental health facilities.

meleahrebeccah said...

I like to think that Mary was just an eccentric woman, who was unfortunately handed a shit load of awfulness. And she did what ever she did to cope with her pain.

meleahrebeccah said...

" All I can say is, if all the parents of the world that are considered
crazy by their kids were to be locked up...let's just say there would be
a room shortage in mental health facilities."


Trina said...

What an interesting idea to retry someone for insanity.


Wolfbernz said...

Hi Cheryl,

They seriously did a retrial and ran through all the evidence? And they came to the same conclusion? Interesting. That's like watching civil war re-enactments and you know the North wins....

Clicks for you!

Cheryl P. said...

That was my take on it too. She probably was seriously depressed and had every reason to be. One of the articles suggested that if Prozac had been available she wouldn't have been experiencing the odd behaviors.

Cheryl P. said...

I found the whole exercise pretty interesting. I didn't watch the whole trial although it is on the web site. (2 and a half hours is more than I care to invest) but recreating the vibe of how the law worked back in 1875 is pretty interesting. Being a woman on trial for anything back then wouldn't have been a good thing.

Cheryl P. said...

The first trial that found her insane was the one recreated and in the recreation they deemed her not insane. But your right that even in her own time a second jury said she didn't need to be institutionalized. What did come out of the retrial is all the violations (by today's standards) of her rights to due process and there were some serious violations of discrimination due to her gender. Being a woman in the judicial system in the 1800s didn't work in her favor.

She was an odd duck though.

meleahrebeccah said...

I think that's probably true!

L.C. Griffith said...

Cheryl, my nerdy friend, this was rather interesting. One can't help but feel pity for Mary after going through so many traumas, not to mention a head injury. By today's standards she would not be committed unless she were a danger to herself or others, otherwise she would probably be on Oprah by now and starring in her own reality show called, Why is Mary so Contrary. LOL!! I really enjoyed this one girl!

Cheryl P. said...

Hi Leah, Yes, I, too felt sorry for her with all the things that went wrong in her life but she was a bit of a mess as well. She tried to commit suicide once and had planned a murder of someone else at another point,

You make a great (and funny) point about if she lived in our modern world she would be a huge celebrity. A former first lady with a reality show....I am sure it would be a huge hit.

Linda R. said...

Quite likely she did not get a fair trial considering her defense attorney didn't do his job. All she went through would likely render a person a bit nuts, but not enough to be involuntarily committed. However, it is all water under the long-ago bridge which leads me to wonder why revisit it, other than maybe to set history straight.

Cheryl P. said...

I agree with everything you said. The process of her trial was flawed because it was driven by men that had biases. The deck was stacked against her. When I saw the headlines talking about the reenactment I thought the same thing...What good does it do anyone now but as you said maybe it was just to have a footnote in history books that she didn't get a fair hearing.

If I was near Springfield when this was going on it might of been interesting to watch it but only in the frame of mind like watching a play...it is was it is...she was committed and later got to go live with her sister because a couple of powerful friends had enough influence to help her. She really was a tragic character.

Cheryl P. said...

Oh, BTW...do you think there is a market for Victorian hats for cats. I thought Carmen (my little Blue Russian) looked quite pretty in her hat. Ha ha