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Mary Lincoln Demystified

Mary Lincoln Demystified

Frequently Asked Questions about Abraham’s Wife

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Donna D. McCreary


E-book (Other formats: Paperback)
6 x 9, 30 illustrations


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About the Book

WINNER, 2023 Illinois State Historical Society Superior Achievement Award in “Books, Scholarly”!

Answering the most enigmatic questions about Mary Lincoln’s life

After portraying Mary Lincoln in hundreds of performances and giving lectures over a more than thirty-year career, Donna D. McCreary has fielded every imaginable inquiry about the First Lady. Gathered here, readers will find answers to the most frequently asked questions to come from live audiences. This first question-and-answer book arises directly from a public’s enduring curiosity with one the country’s most important historical figures. Decades of conversations with audiences, scholars, and relatives of the Todd family frame McCreary’s intimate and devoted research to offer a new and unique portrait of the most tragic First Lady. 

Though Mary has been portrayed in books and film, McCreary’s book contains information not found elsewhere—details others have overlooked and those that would not fit well into a narrative history—such as lists of Mary’s beaus, servants, and the people the Todd family enslaved; appendixes that present mini-biographies of families and friends; and a uniquely thorough timeline. Mary Lincoln Demystified covers areas in which McCreary’s audiences have expressed the most interest: Mary’s sanity, her family relationships, her views on slavery and African Americans, her personality and habits, and what happened to her possessions and children after she died.

While sympathetic to the woman she portrayed for two decades, McCreary examines both sides of controversial issues and presents the facts with her trademark style and flair. More than a good read, McCreary’s Q&A factbook, based as it is on decades of extensive research in primary and secondary sources, will be the definitive resource for answers about Mary for years to come.


Donna D. McCreary, a writer, lecturer, and performer, is the author of Lincoln’s Table: Victorian Recipes from Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois to the White House and Fashionable First Lady: The Victorian Wardrobe of Mary Lincoln. McCreary portrayed Mary Lincoln from 1992 to 2012 and now lectures at Lincoln sites, museums, and libraries throughout the Midwest. She is a cofounder of Mary Lincoln’s Coterie.


“The remarkable amount of biographical and interpretive coverage in this volume is a tribute to the author’s persistence and ability. Donna D. McCreary has cleared away whole swaths of error in fact or opinion left by previous writers and passers-by about Mary Lincoln. If the author had merely touched upon her great knowledge of Mary’s wardrobe, family, photographs, travels, views on slavery or suffrage, or friends, this book would still be invaluable; yet she has addressed in depth two dozen more topics than those. At last, Mary Lincoln is given her due.” —James M. Cornelius, coauthor of Under Lincoln’s Hat: 100 Objects That Tell the Story of His Life and Legacy

“Dismissing Mary Lincoln as a villain does no justice to her, to Abraham Lincoln, or to history. She was not a caricature. She was a complicated, intelligent, passionate, flawed human being. To demystify her is to know her better and, in turn, to know Abraham Lincoln better; and McCreary seeks to do just that by illustrating Mary Lincoln’s humanity.”—Stacy Pratt McDermott, author of Mary Lincoln: Southern Girl, Northern Woman

“McCreary offers many interesting—and uncommon—details about our famous first lady, and includes some downright unique information. It has been years since I’ve read any new or detailed information about the Todd family and Mary’s dynamic within it; and McCreary’s chapter on Mary’s experiences and opinions regarding slavery and African Americans is something that has been sorely needed in the canon for a long time.”—Jason Emerson, author of The Madness of Mary Lincoln and Mary Lincoln for the Ages 

“It’s doubtful that anyone, not even Abraham, ever believed they had fully demystified Mary Lincoln, but in laying the most important questions before us and offering accessible and well-informed answers, Donna McCreary has done the next best thing.”—Gerald Prokopowicz, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association

“McCreary’s insatiable curiosity, encyclopedic knowledge, lucid prose, and inventive Q&A format allow her to include the multitude of details that cannot all be included in a traditional narrative.”—The National Book Review

“McCreary’s book contains information not found elsewhere… and a uniquely thorough timeline. While sympathetic to the woman she portrayed for two decades, McCreary examines both sides of contro­versial issues and presents the facts with her trademark style and flair. This book will be a fine reference for quite a long time.”—Illinois State Historical Society Awards Selection Committee