In 1875, Robert Lincoln, the only living son of martyred President Abraham Lincoln, petitioned to have his mother Mary Lincoln institutionalized for insanity. Robert Lincoln was concerned about her eccentric behavior and excessive spending habits. A jury found her insane, and she was taken to Bellevue Place Sanatorium in Batavia, Illinois. While there, she argued that she was sane and enlisted the assistance of Myra Bradwell and others to obtain her release. The doctor in charge at Bellevue and Robert Lincoln consented to her early release into the care of Mary Lincoln's sister in Springfield, Illinois. One year after the trial, another jury found Mary Lincoln sane, restoring her legal control over her assets. In 2012, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission partnered in a series of events to educate and inform the public about Mary Lincoln's insanity episode and modern-day mental health issues.

• In April, the first event featured historians, attorneys, and mental health professionals in a roundtable discussion. The first panel examined the environment of Mary Lincoln, her life, and her mental health issues; and the second panel discussed the insanity trial from a modern-day perspective.

• In June, the Commission and the ALPLM partnered with the Illinois State Board of Education for a teachers workshop. Nine teachers from across Illinois attended the workshop to learn about Mary Lincoln’s life, the legal status of women, and Lincoln’s insanity case. The teachers created a two-week lesson plan under the new Common Core guidelines.

• In September and October, the retrials of Mary Lincoln featured modern-day lawyers and judges in a courtroom setting to give her a hearing regarding her alleged insanity under modern-day laws. Actors portraying Robert Lincoln and Mary Lincoln, in period costume, testified, as well as an expert witness — a mental health professional — for each side.

• In November, the extravagant exuberance of Mary Lincoln was on display in two culture of clothing events. These events examined the historical importance of clothing for women and highlighted Mary Lincoln's life and fashions as a homemaker, the First Lady, and widow in mourning.

• In January and March 2013, two performances of “Mary and Myra, written by New York playwright, Catherine Filloux, examined the visits by Myra Bradwell to Mary Lincoln during Lincoln’s stay at Bellevue Place sanitarium.

• In February 2013, WTTW, a public television station in Chicago, broadcast an edited production of The Insanity Retrial of Mary Todd Lincoln. The program was a 90-minute production of the retrial that had taken place at the Murphy Auditorium in Chicago in September 2012. WTTW distributed the program to PBS stations across the state and to C-SPAN, giving the production statewide and national exposure. The WTTW production was nominated for a regional Emmy award for Outstanding Achievement for Informational/Instructional Programing – Program/Special/Series/Feature/Segment. The award ceremony was held in November 2013, and the Insanity Retrial lost to a Wisconsin production.
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    Mary Lincoln

    ca. 1861

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    Mary Lincoln

    ca. 1861

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    Mary Lincoln

    1862

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    Mary Lincoln

    1869

  • Culture of Clothing

    Mira Horoszowski (far right) with “Mary Lincoln” at Culture of Clothing, Chicago

    November 2012

  • Mary Lincoln retrial

    Hon. Mark Drummond interrogates Pam Brown as Mary Lincoln at retrial at Murphy Auditoriumin Chicago

    September 2012

  • Mary Lincoln retrial

    Bill Kurtis introduces the Insanity Retrial of Mary Todd Lincoln to a sold-out Murphy Auditorium, Chicago

    September 2012

  • Mary Lincoln retrial

    Pam Brown as Mary Lincoln

    September 2012

  • Mary Lincoln retrial

    Zach Kenney as Robert Lincoln with his attorneys, Hon. Erica Reddick and Hon. Warren Wolfson, Chicago

    September 2012

  • Mary Lincoln retrial

    Pam Brown as Mary Lincoln with her attorneys, Hon. Mark Drummond and Hon. Lorna Propes, Chicago

    September 2012

  • Mary Lincoln retrial

    Hon. Ron Spears interrogates Zach Kenney as Robert Lincoln, Springfield

    October 2012

  • Mary Lincoln retrial

    Pam Brown, as Mary Lincoln, arrives at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum with her attorneys, Hon. Lisa Holder White, Hon. R. C. Bollinger, and expert witness, Dr. Terry Killian

    October 2012

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Have a Question

Feel free to contact us about our Retrial Collection or upcoming retrials. We try to plan for these events 6-12 months in advance. If you have an idea, or think a certain subject matter would make for a retrail, let us know.

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About the Commission

Since 2009 we have been collecting, archiving, and researching the history of the Illinois Judiciary. Our collections range from artifacts to dockets to recent oral histories.

Commissioners:

Honorable James R Thompson, Chairman
Honorable Kirk W Dillard
Kim B. Fox
Pauline Montgomery
Joseph A Power, Jr
William J Quinlan
Jane Hayes Rader
J. William Roberts
Michael J Tardy, Ex-officio