American Women!
A Celebration of Our History
April 22 -- October 29, 2000

First Lady and Widow of First Presidential Assassination


Conspirator or Innocent Victim?


Question: "Did your son or Mr. Booth ever tell you that they had engaged in a plot to kill the President?"
Answer: "Never in the world if it was the last word I have ever to utter."

    --Statement made by Surratt on April 28, 1865

These two "Marys" were tied by history to the life and death of this nation's greatest president - Abraham Lincoln. Mary Todd would marry the gangly Illinois lawyer and make him the center of her life. Mary Surratt would be accused for conspiring to assassinate the president. The lives of both of these women ended in tragedy.

Born to privilege, Mary Todd shocked her family when she accepted Lincoln's marriage proposal. But she recognized his potential and helped to advance his political career all the way to the presidency. She had high expectations for her role as First Lady, but her free-spending habits and Southern sympathies caused much gossip and suspicion among capital society. Following her husband's assassination, Mary traveled the world seeking comfort and solace, but found none.

Mary Surratt ran a boarding house in Washington D.C., and it was here that she was introduced by her son to John Wilkes Booth. After Booth shot Lincoln at Ford's Theater, he fled south to a tavern owned by Surratt to pick up rifles. Surratt pleaded innocent after being accused of complicity in the crime. During the trial that followed, the tavern keeper swore that Mrs. Surratt told him to "have the shooting irons ready." She was found guilty and condemned to hang with three other conspirators on July 1, 1865--the first woman ever to be executed by the U.S. government.

Mary Lincoln remained distraught for the rest of her life. After a short commitment to an insane asylum in 1875, she spent her remaining unhappy days in France and later with her sister in Springfield, Illinois. Mary Surratt's son had fled the country, but in 1867 was captured and tried for conspiracy. Prosecutors used the same evidence that had condemned his mother.yet he was found innocent.

Historic Artifacts:

LACE SCARF worn by Mary Todd Lincoln to Ford's Theater on the evening of the president's assassination, 4-14-1865.
EARRINGS worn by Mary Todd Lincoln
PORTRAIT and LOCKS OF HAIR of Mary Lincoln
--On loan from Dr. D. Gary Lattimer, Honolulu HI

HANDWRITTEN LETTER from Mary Todd Lincoln to Queen Victoria, 5-21-1865
-- On loan from the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library-Museum, Abilene KS

FOOTSTOOL owned by Mary Todd Lincoln
DAMASK TABLECLOTH given by the Lincolns to their pastor in Springfield
--On loan from the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Springfield IL

PETITION to Congress requesting a pension for the president's widow by Mary Todd Lincoln, 1869
-- On loan from the Records of the U.S. House of Representatives / National Archives, Washington D.C.

CUP and SAUCER (reproductions) showing the pattern of the Lincoln presidential china
-- From the Museum Shop in the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum, West Branch IA

NOOSE that hanged Mary Surratt. The knot was secured with only 5 turns (instead of the standard 8) because Surratt was expected to be pardoned by President Andrew Johnson, and so the hangman did not complete his preparations. The pardon never came.
PHOTOS taken before and after the execution
LOCKS of HAIR of Mary Surratt
--On loan from Dr. D. Gary Lattimer, Honolulu HI

MAP (copy) of escape route of John Wilkes Booth
TRIAL TRANSCRIPTS (copy) pertinent to Mrs. Surratt's statements made while in Carroll Prison awaiting trial for conspiracy, April 1865. At that time, no citizens had the right to testify in their own defense in court.
PHOTOS of Mary Surratt and the 'Ring of Conspirators'
PHOTO of Surratt's boarding house
PHOTO of an engraving of the courtroom scene
--On loan from the Surratt House Museum, Clinton MD

Return to the "From Growth to Civil War" index page
"red arrow" Continue the story--NEXT..."From Prairie to Polls, 1870-1920"
or visit:
  From Colony to Country, 1600-1800 From Fifties to Feminism, 1950-1990
  From Jazz to War, 1920-1950 Into the 21st Century, 1990 onward
"red arrow" View an alphabetical list of all 106 women included in American Women! with links to photos and biographies for selected women
"red arrow" View a Thank You to over 100 lenders to Ameican Women!
"red arrow" Return to American Women! index page
"black arrow" Return to Hoover Library-Museum virtual exhibits page
"black arrow" Return to Hoover Library-Museum main index page