Exploring Misconceptions

Author Ellison to discuss her book on Mary Todd Lincoln

Event is part of the Oldham Co.
History Center Dinner Series

LA GRANGE, Ky. (June 2017) – Although she was a U.S. president’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln was not the most popular woman in America during the time period in which she lived. Often seen in the shadow of her husband, Mary Todd Lincoln was as equally independent, intelligent and educated, as shown in the book, “The True Story of Mary Todd Lincoln.”
Author Betty Boles Ellison penned the biography “to correct 150 years of erroneously collected history,” she said. “It was time to right the record and I was determined to clear up at least two major accusations against Mrs. Lincoln – that she was extravagant when she was actually very frugal and that she was insane after she was given a mind-altering drug by her son‘s physician to give the appearance of being incompetent.”
Ellison will present a program on her book at 6:30 p.m.

Betty Boles Ellison

Thursday, June 15, at the Oldham County History Center. This program is part of the History Dinner Series. A light meal will be served and a cash bar will be available. The program will be held in the Rob Morris Educational Building at 207 West Jefferson St. in La Grange, Ky.
Mary Todd Lincoln was born on Dec. 13, 1818, in Lexington, Ky., to a prominent family who had helped found the town. She grew up wealthy. Her father, Robert Todd, was a successful merchant and a politician. Her mother died when she was only 6 years old. Her father soon remarried, and her strict stepmother had little regard for Mary. Despite this, she received a remarkable education for a young girl during this time period. She studied at a local academy and then attended boarding school.
She met the future president, Abraham Lincoln, who was then a politician and lawyer, and they married on Nov. 4, 1842. They had four children, with only one living to adulthood. When the Civil War began in 1861, Mary’s family supported the South, but she remained a fervent Unionist.
After President Lincoln’s assassination, Mary fell into a deep depression. Her surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, had her temporarily committed. She died in 1882.
“While her perseverance in the Executive Mansion during the most turbulent time in American history is to be admired, I most admire her intense fighting spirit and great intellect to not only plan to remove herself from the asylum, but carrying the battle even further in regaining a legal definition of her sanity, control of her money and the right to travel when she chose,” said Ellison, 83.
Ellison grew up on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee and attended Centre College and the University of Kentucky. She returned to UK in 1986 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in American History and a master’s degree in Kentucky history, plus 32 post-baccalaureate hours of graduate history seminar work.
During graduate school at UK, Ellison worked for a year on the research staff of “The Kentucky Encyclopedia.” Her job included checking facts and contributing numerous entries to the printed and electronic editions.
She worked as a journalist for 25 years in addition to working as a business review editor at the Lexington Herald-Leader, chief travel writer for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and writing copy for the Call of Kentucky, the state’s first full color travel book.
Ellison first became interested in Mary Todd Lincoln during her 12-year tenure as a board member for the Kentucky Mansions Preservation Foundation. In this role she helped restore Lincoln’s childhood home in Lexington, Ky. She also worked alongside former Kentucky first lady, Mrs. Beula Nunn, on the restoration of White Hall, the ancestral home of Cassius M. Clay.
Research for the book included federal government documents from the Superintendent of Public Building’s Check Registers in the Department of the Interior, National Archive and Records Administration, “Summary of Appropriations and Expenditures From the National Treasury for Public and Private Purposes in the District of Columbia From June 16, 1790 to June 30, 1876,” and the Lincoln’s financial records and correspondence. These sources proved much of the previously accepted historical material about Mrs. Lincoln was not true, said Ellison.
In a review in the “Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society,” Matthew Toland wrote, “Betty Boles Ellison used primary sources to illustrate that many of the commonly held beliefs about Mary Todd Lincoln are the result of rumors, propaganda and lies.”
“Mrs. Lincoln was an exceptionally intelligent and educated woman for her time,” Ellison said. “Her political instincts were invaluable to her husband’s political career. Attractive, clever and socially astute, she did not suffer fools graciously. She is to be, perhaps, most admired for refusing to let others make her a victim.”
Ellison has even presented a program at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa, about Mrs. Lincoln.
She is the author of “Kentucky’s Domain of Power, Greed and Corruption,” “Illegal Odyssey, 200 Years of Kentucky Moonshine,” “Justice Delayed, Justice Denied,” “Cassis Marcellus Clay: A Man Seen But Once” and “The Early Laps of Stock Car Racing.”
Currently, Ellison is working on a biography of Rachel Jackson and the public abuse she received during the 1828 presidential election.

• Tickets are $20 for members of the Oldham County Historical Society and $22 for non-members. To make reservations please call (502) 222-0826.

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