Today is the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. I am thinking about an aspect of President Lincoln's life that is less often mentioned in his biography. I am thinking about the woman he loved, Mary Lincoln. While there is disagreement about the scope and nature of her mental illness, there is adequate anecdotal evidence that she was extremely troubled. Neither society or physicians of the day offered understanding therapies. Involuntary commitment was common - in Mrs. Lincoln's case after a jury found her "insane".
The depression and mania that so often overcame her are better understood today. There are therapeutic choices. But for the loved one of a person gripped by mental illness, there is still the reality of helplessness. President Lincoln suffered alone with his wife's illness as she suffered unhelped by the reproach and rejection she faced. I believe that some of the sadness so often captured in photographs of his face was caused by despair for his wife.