“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—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