Ten years after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln was still grieving her husband. Her son Robert believed her to be mentally unstable and concocted a case to get a judge to agree. He had a family friend represent his mother, who was forcibly taken to court for an insanity trial in Chicago in 1875.
The hearing was a setup from the beginning. Mary Todd’s lawyer did not contest the case, nor did he call any defense witnesses, despite the 17 witnesses that Robert called. The judge passed down a verdict of insanity and ordered her to be admitted to the State Hospital for the Insane. A deal was worked out, though, and Mary Todd was instead allowed to be admitted to Bellevue Place, a private facility in Batavia, Illinois.
Bellevue was a private facility for ladies. It had a philosophy of peace, quiet, and gentleness as the necessary tools for helping the mentally ill. Lincoln’s suite was on the middle floor and cost $10 a day. She is said to have had much freedom, as she often visited the homes of well-off ladies around town and ate meals with the head doctor and his wife.
Lincoln’s stay lasted for one summer before she was released because of public unhappiness about her commitment. There was, and still is, many differing views on whether Lincoln was rightfully committed or not. Even today there are some who argue that she was most likely mentally ill, and others who say she was merely grieving.
Bellevue Place closed in 1964. Two years later it reopened as a home for unwed pregnant women. The women were all admitted with fake names and there is still a lot of mystery surrounding the people who lived there. Today the building is used as apartments.
The Batavia Depot Museum’s exhibit on famous residents includes a section dedicated to Mary Todd Lincoln’s story. The exhibit houses her Bellevue bed, dresser, patient ledge, as well as the insanity verdict from her court case.
Know Before You Go
The Depot Museum is run by the Batavia Historical Society, housed in the town’s old train station. The former Bellevue Place still stands and has been converted to apartments and is now called the Batavia Institute. You can see the building and a plaque about Mary Todd Lincoln's stay at 333 S Jefferson St, Batavia, Illinois.