Disorders and Treatment
- Mental Illness
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Continued from Part 2
Almost immediately after the verdict, Mary Todd Lincoln became agitated when her son and his lawyers insisted that she hand over the thousands of dollars in bonds that she had sewn into her petticoats. Even after returning to her hotel, she only surrendered the bonds under pressure from the lawyers. Leaving her in her room under the watchful eye of a nurse and two Pinkerton detectives in the hall outside, Mary still managed to elude them all when she sneaked out and went to a nearby pharmacy to purchase laudanum and camphor.
The pharmacist, suspicious of the order, tried to stall her until the Pinkerton agents arrived. Frustrated over the delay, she left and was followed to another pharmacy where she tried to have the order filled. Eventually returning to the first pharmacy, they gave her a placebo bottle and she returned to her hotel. Since the entire purpose of the trip was to purchase laudanum to commit suicide, Mary drank the entire bottle after she returned to her hotel room. Realizing that something was wrong, she dodged her guard (again) and returned to the pharmacy saying the first bottle had been too weak. The pharmacist had notified Robert Lincoln after Mary left with her first purchase but he still had not arrived. Desperate to stall Mary further, he let her watch while he prepared another dose. Giving her another placebo, Mary took this with her and, once again, drank it all in her hotel room.
By this time, Robert Lincoln and Leonard Swett had arrived and Mary admitted that she had attempted suicide. After they stayed with her all night, Mary calmly allowed herself to be taken to the train station and to Bellevue Place in Batavia, Illinois. Robert had few options available to him since he could not keep his mother at home (Mary and his wife despised each other) and the State Hospital for the Insane was largely reserved for paupers. As a facility for treating women from well-off families, Bellevue Place came well-recommended. A small sanitorium meant to accomodate up to thirty patients (though there were only twenty at the time Mary was there), Bellevue had a complete staff of doctors and attendants. While she regarded it as a gloomy prison, Mary was actually well-treated compared to less well-off patients. Newspapers reporting on her commitment also commented on the five trunks of clothing that she brought with her. For the director, Robert T. Patterson, managing Bellevue was a family affair. His wife was the matron and his son was one of the physicians on staff. Since the hospital was selective about the patients they took in (no violent cases allowed), they could avoid the brutal restraints that characterized the state asylums of the time.
While Robert Lincoln was satisfied about the quality of his mother's care, Mary Lincoln was determined to leave. Though she admitted that she had been delusional before, she placed the blame completely on the various medications that she had been taking. And she was likely right considering that her condition returned to normal just a few weeks after her stay in the hospital. She was hardly a model patient though. Along with agreeing to interviews with Chicago journalists, she also mailed a letter to an acquaintance, General John Farnsworth as well as Judge James Bradwell and asked for their help in being released. Since Mary was being carefully watched, these letters needed to be smuggled out of the hospital.
She could hardly have picked anyone better for her cause since both James Bradwell and his wife Myra were ardent feminists and advocates for people who had been involuntarilyy commited for insanity. While Myra Bradwell was not allowed to practice law because of her sex (she would only become a member of the state bar association two years before her death), she still had one of the best legal minds in the state.
Though General Farnsworth and the Bradwells visited Mary at the hospital and agreed that she was not "quite right", they also felt that she needed to recuperate at her sister's home in Springfield, Illinois rather than a hospital. The Bradwells brought in newspaper reporters and arranged for a media campaign to help get Mary Lincoln released. Robert was especially upset by Myra Bradwell's campaign and dismissed her as "a high priestess in a gang of Spiritualists" who was trying to have his mother released so they could control her property. He was also mystified as to why Mary would want to live with her sister considering they had been alienated for years. Although Myra Bradwell managed to convince him that she was genuinely concerned for Mary, Robert was still afraid that his mother would try to escape to Europe as soon as she was released.
As the question of Mary remaining in the hospital dragged on, newspaper stories announcing that Abraham Lincoln's widow was being held under conditions amounting to virtual imprisonment began surfacing thanks to the Bradwells and their campaign to free Mary. These same stories described how Mrs. Lincoln was interviewed in the hospital and showed "NOT THE SLIGHTEST TRACE OF INSANITY" (even before the Internet, using all capitals was allowed when a newspaper editor was trying to get a point across).
The newspapers highlighted the Bradwells' plan to have Mary live with her sister and placed much of the blame for her hospitalization on Dr. Patterson (since Robert Lincoln was as much a public icon as his mother). The strategy worked and Dr. Patterson was placed on the defensive. After agreeing that Mary Lincoln was fit to leave the hospital, the burden was placed on Robert Lincoln to allow it. Consulting with another doctor for a second opinion, Robert relented and allowed Mary to go live with his aunt, Elizabeth Todd Edwards, in Springfield. He personally accompanied his mother to Springfield on September 11, 1875 for an trial stay in her sister's household.
It was a reasonably successful experiment despite a few setbacks. Mary went through a series of nurses who, for one reason or another, failed to last very long and her relationship with her sister's servants was not much better. All in all, Mary was a difficult tenant (her sister received $100 a month for her room and board) though she did her best to convince her family that she was sane. Robert remained pessimistic about his mother's state of mind which helped alienate them even further.
And there was still the matter of her no longer being able to manage her own finances. Mary and Elizabeth Edwards' husband Ninian began pressuring Robert to lift the conditions of the conservatorship but Robert had legitimate fears that Mary would end up squandering her assets with her reckless spending. He was also worried about his mother's spiritualist beliefs and the possibility that some unscrupulous medium might try cheating her.
Although his fears were largely exaggerated (Mary had largely given up on spiritualism by this time), Robert was still unwilling to lift the conservatorship completely. Instead, he worked out a compromise where she would be free to travel and spend her monthly allowance as she wished. This was not enough for Mary and she became increasingly bitter towards her son and the loss of her independence. That led to a startling letter that Robert Lincoln received from Ninian Edwards on January 14, 1876. According to this letter
I am sorry to say that your mother has for the last month been very much embittered against you and has on several occasions said that she had hired two men to take your life. On this morning we learned that she carries a pistol in her pocket. Gov. Palmer advises me to inform you of new threats and of her carrying the pistol.... If you think it best to come down, you had better not come direct to our house but advise me where to meet you. Please do not let her know that I have written to you on the subject. The information in regard to the pistol you can learn from others.
Although Robert found it hard to believe that his mother could be planning his murder, this letter showed him how desperate she had become. And the problems were just beginning...
Continue to Part 4
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