When Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s 11 year old son, Willie, died in February 1862, they once again experienced what is called “the greatest tragedy.” Willie was their second son to die from an illness in childhood. The Lincolns were eager for solace and a place to grieve this loss when they moved to the Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home. When describing their move, Mary Lincoln wrote, “When we are in sorrow, quiet is very necessary to us.”
The trauma of child loss shaped both Lincolns. It seeded new fears they carried until they died. It deepened the limits of their emotional and mental endurance. It changed the character and course of their lives. And, the stigma of grief transcends time and place as families continue to struggle under the societal pressures of mourning the death of children in modern society.
Reflections on Grief and Child Loss is a first of its kind exhibit that bridges the Lincolns’ experience of the death of their children with modern families whose children have died inexplicably or from illness, disease, physical and gun violence and identify themes and ideas to bring light to the experience of child loss across time and experience. The exhibit will remain open for at least two years.
How to Help Someone who Grieves
In the News
Smithsonian Magazine: Why Historians Should Reevaluate Mary Todd Lincoln’s Oft-Misunderstood Grief
The Washington Post: Mary Lincoln wasn’t ‘crazy.’ She was a bereaved mother, new exhibit says.
Reflecting on Grief at President Lincoln’s Cottage | National Trust for Historic Preservation (savingplaces.org)
You Ok, Mary? Female Historians Consider Mary Lincoln
Reflections for a Grieving Nation with Pastor John Goodloe
Q&Abe Episode 3.2: “Wasn’t She Crazy?”
2022- Outstanding Public History Project Award from the National Council on Public History
2021 SEGD Global Design Award Merit Award winner: Howard+Revis Design
Award of Excellence by the American Association for State and Local History.
A History in Progress Award by the American Association for State and Local History.
“Our visit to the Cottage was a great source of strength and comfort to our family.”
“What a well done exhibit. I’ve never seen anything like it. A really good balance between history and [the modern day], which can be hard to do.”
“We saw a story on the exhibit showing the tree with leaves where you could add someone you have lost, & knew we had to come. What an amazingly beautiful idea. Thank everyone so much for this wonderful way to remember our daughter.”