WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Giving Voice to Mary Todd Lincoln

Mar 25, 2015

Mary Todd Lincoln did a lot of good work that went unnoticed in her lifetime, according to Laura Keyes, who portrays the former First Lady during programs, including one that will be given in Macomb.

The presentation begins at 1:00 p.m., Saturday, March 28, at the Western Illinois Museum.  There is a suggested five-dollar donation at the door.

Keyes said Mrs. Lincoln spent a great deal of time visiting with sick and recovering soldiers in hospitals around Washington D.C.

“She brought a great deal of food and flowers and even small gifts like books or playing cards with her in order to cheer the soldiers,” said Keyes. “It was so kind of her do to that.”

Mary Todd Lincoln
Credit Wiki Commons

Keyes believes Mrs. Lincoln’s contributions were overlooked because she was considered flighty and a spendthrift – someone who should not be taken seriously.  Keyes said that reputation has stuck with her for the past 150 years.

People have also questioned Mrs. Lincoln’s sanity. Keyes believes she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.  Keyes pointed out Mrs. Lincoln lost her mother at an early age, three of her children died young, she lost relatives on both sides of the Civil War, and her husband was murdered while she sat next to him.

“If anyone can really survive all of that loss and all of that stress in your life and not turn a little bit off-kilter, that’s really impressive and I’d really like to meet that person,” Keyes said. 

Keyes said she’s been involved for many years with community theater productions in the Rockford area.  She was cast as Mary Todd Lincoln in a play in 2008 that marked the sesquicentennial of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Laura Keyes as Mary Todd Lincoln
Credit Andreoli

“During the run of the play, the cast was interviewed twice and two different newspaper articles mentioned me and my role and the research that I did in order to prepare for the role,” Keyes said.

“And I very quickly received three phone calls from three different public libraries asking me to come and give a talk on Mrs. Lincoln.  And it hasn’t really stopped since 2008.”

The program at the Western Illinois Museum will be set on the afternoon of April 14, 1865.  It was a joyous moment for the nation – joy that quickly disappeared when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated a few hours later. 

Keyes said she will also add to the program a bit of information about Abraham Lincoln’s visit to Macomb in 1858.

The program is based on research done by Keyes.