Skip to main content

Mrs. Lincoln seeks a baby-sitter in newly published letter

By Melissa Gray
updated 5:58 PM EST, Thu February 21, 2013
A newly published letter from Mary Todd Lincoln requesting child care for son, Tad.
A newly published letter from Mary Todd Lincoln requesting child care for son, Tad.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mary Todd Lincoln requests a baby-sitter in the 1864 letter
  • She needed someone to watch their 11-year-old son, Tad
  • The letter is being offered for sale, valued at $15,000

(CNN) -- President Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd, needed a baby-sitter.

It was April 18, 1864, and the Lincolns had planned to go to a fair in Baltimore, returning the next day. They needed someone to watch their 11-year-old son, Tad.

A newly published letter from Mrs. Lincoln requesting a sitter gives rare insight into the family's life inside the Lincoln White House, showing one way the family had to juggle their busy schedules, just like everyone else.

Lessons for Congress from 'Lincoln'
Congressman: 'Lincoln' got it wrong
1865: Lincoln talks of 'sin of slavery'

The letter is being offered for sale by the Raab Collection, a dealer in historical documents, valued at $15,000.

It's not long -- just one line -- but the signed letter is in the first lady's hand.

"Hon. Mr. Harrington, We would like to have the services of Charles from today, at 2 P.M. until tomorrow at 11 A.M. Very Resp. Mrs. Lincoln."

"Charles" was Charles Forbes, a Treasury Department employee who was detailed to the Lincolns and often served as the president's valet, footman, messenger or attendant, according to the Raab Collection.

George Harrington was assistant secretary of the Treasury and Forbes' boss and handled personal financial matters for the Lincolns.

"Children in the White House have always held a great fascination with the American people," said Nathan Raab, vice president of the Raab Collection. "It shows the president and first lady at their most personal, their most human."

Mary Todd Lincoln ended up not going to the Baltimore event, likely too burdened with preparations for a reception the next night, the final White House reception of the season, Raab says.

Forbes' close family relationship soured a year later when President Lincoln was assassinated. Forbes was seated outside the president's box at Ford's Theatre and was the one who allowed the assassin, John Wilkes Booth, to enter. Forbes and the president's guard then left for a drink, leaving Lincoln unattended, Raab says.

Mary Todd Lincoln ended up blaming Forbes for her husband's death.

"Lincoln," a film about the 16th president and his battle to end slavery, is up for 12 Academy Awards this year, including best picture. The ceremony is scheduled to be broadcast Sunday night.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:54 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
updated 7:24 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
updated 1:44 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
updated 8:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
updated 12:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
updated 3:22 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
updated 4:00 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
updated 6:34 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
updated 12:46 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
updated 9:51 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it has never looked better.
updated 11:21 AM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
Unicef has warned that more than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation.
updated 12:01 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT