Mary Lincoln’s Old Clothes

Presidential History Blog

The close but unlikely friendship between Mary Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley would be permanently shattered by what Mrs. Lincoln would consider a gross betrayal. It was not intended as such.

Mrs. Lincoln’s Debts

When Mary Lincoln was First Lady, merchants in New York and Philadelphia were delighted to grant her unlimited credit. She ran up huge bills that her husband knew nothing about.

inaugural gown Mary Lincoln wanted to be the great setter-of-styles as First Lady. She purchased a large and expensive wardrobe.

Once Abraham Lincoln was dead, however, the merchants had no reason to court his widow. They began dunning her for payment. Mary confessed to Elizabeth Keckley, her mulatto dressmaker and close confidante, that she believed she owed about $38,000 – an enormous sum. Modern historians have tried, but have never been able to make an exact calculation. Historian Jean Baker surmises the debts were more like $10,000 –…

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