about “inclined to suppose”

“I am convinced, the longer I live, that life and its blessings are not so entirely

unjustly distributed [as] when we are suffering greatly, we are inclined to suppose,”

Mary Todd Lincoln, 1868, in a letter to Mrs. Felician Slataperi.

“inclined to suppose” explores aspects of Mary Todd Lincoln’s private and public lives, and her

poignant ability to reflect upon her own life and the lives of others in her writing. Her

words echo across time, reminding us of the futility of conflict, the pain of absence and

loss, and the importance of hope when facing the uncertainty and fragility of our lives.

We see Mary’s life as one lived between carefully defined spheres of Victorian America.

We began by imagining the complex challenges she faced as a sophisticated, politically

astute woman, more educated than most men of her day, who grew up in an atmosphere

of financial and cultural privilege and intellectual freedom, during a period of American

history when women were not encouraged to think, much less express their views


Mary was ardent about cultivating Lincoln’s political career and often used his positions

of influence to voice her own social and political concerns. Equally passionate about her

family life, she was devoted to her husband and children, recognizing and nurturing the

uniqueness of each of them. She loved and feared for them and for herself; her intuition

was uncanny. So it is when she writes in a letter to her husband, “Your name is on every

lip and many prayers and good wishes are hourly sent up, for your welfare.” These

words, in Mary’s own script, encircle the hem of the skirt in inclined to suppose.

We find the intersection of Mary Todd Lincoln’s private and public lives to reveal her

complexity and the tenuous balance between loving wife and mother and First Lady. Here

we see Mary in a parallax view, at her most vital and powerful and at her most tender,

fragile and vulnerable. Her intellect and emotional strength in the face of frequent trauma

and loss suggest a formidable spirit. As contemporary women, we each related to the

threads of her life and reflected upon how they intertwine with our own experiences. The

fabric’s pattern made of Mary’s words, “Others live on in a careless lukewarm state, not

appearing to fill Longfellow’s measure: “Into each life, some rain must fall,” indicates

the extent of the emotional pain she suffered as a result of the many tragedies she

experienced, and her ability to persevere despite these challenges.

Lisa Marie Kaftori in collaboration with Joan Giroux and Whitney Huber Lazar

Castle Gallery, New York, 2009