For Sale at Raab: Mary Todd Lincoln’s Original Letter Finding Jobs for Women During the Civil War

A letter never before offered for sale and valued at $15,000

On exhibit at Raab beginning May 6


The Raab Collection today announced that it has acquired and will offer for sale a previously unknown and unpublished letter of Mary Todd Lincoln, written in 1864, showing her efforts to find women jobs during the Civil War. This shows the First Lady advocating for women at a time when women were not commonly in the workforce. Letters of Mrs. Lincoln are scarce; this was acquired from an heir of the original recipient and has never before been offered for sale. It is valued at $15,000. 

First Lady

In some ways, Mary Todd Lincoln was trapped between worlds. Born in Lexington, Kentucky, she was considered a spy by Northerners and a traitor by Southerners. She accepted her role as a hostess and helpmeet when her husband assumed the presidency, yet encouraged and helped women to find jobs outside the home as nurses and, in this case, in her husband’s government, the Treasury Department. 

Her correspondent here is George Harrington, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, who also handled financial matters for the Lincolns. Mrs. Lincoln writes, “The girl whom I promised a place in the Treasury has not acted worthily, therefore I request that I may insert another name in the place. I am sure it will be an unimportant matter to you, and your compliance will gratify me.”

Mary Todd Lincoln
Credit: Library of Congress Prints & Photographs

Mary Todd Lincoln Today

Mrs. Lincoln’s legacy has long been difficult for historians to parse, with illness and grief over the loss of three children and the assassination of her husband casting a long shadow over her life. 

In recent months, however, Mary Todd Lincoln has reemerged from that shadow. On Apple TV’s acclaimed historical drama series, Manhunt, she is played by actress Lili Taylor, who highlights Mrs. Lincoln’s thoughtfulness and resiliency. 

The new Off-Broadway play, Oh, Mary!, which runs through May 12 before it hops over to Broadway in June, is a dark comedy that examines Mary Todd Lincoln’s inner turmoil in the weeks leading up to her husband’s death. It offers a whole new–critics say zany and eccentric–angle on the First Lady.  

Mary Todd Lincoln letter

A New Discovery

As we continue to wrangle with who Mary Todd Lincoln really was, this letter, newly discovered and previously unknown, offers another piece of the historical puzzle. It demonstrates her generosity and willingness to intervene on behalf of young women seeking to enter the workplace. 

To learn more about this letter, Nathan Raab, president of The Raab Collection and author of The Hunt for History, is available for interviews. The letter will go on display at The Raab Collection May 6-10. Appointments for viewings are necessary; please email or call to schedule. 

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