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The letter is being offered for sale by the Raab Collection, a dealer in historical documents, valued at $15,000.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 10:50 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
The comparisons are inevitable: A student-led campaign challenges Beijing authorities for greater freedom. Could Hong Kong protests lead to another Tiananmen?
updated 11:54 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
With an efficient subway, inexpensive taxis and a good public bus system, Hong Kong is normally an easy city to navigate ...
updated 11:50 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Experts believe that ISIS may be using a Spanish enclave to bring jihad to Europe.
updated 3:52 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
In a country with not enough toilets, scavengers are paid just $5 a day to scoop human waste.
updated 7:32 PM EDT, Sun September 28, 2014
CNN's Ivan Watson was in the middle of a pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong when things got out of hand.
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The world's animal population has halved in 40 years as humans put unsustainable demands on Earth, a new report warns.
updated 8:49 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Every day, refugees and migrants risk their lives as they seek a new life. Now, a new report puts a figure to the number of victims.
updated 5:28 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
It's a frightening prospect for South Koreans: secret North Korean tunnels under Seoul
updated 10:42 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mainstream commentators must promote positive role models to Muslims feeling victimized, writes Ghaffar Hussain.
updated 2:13 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Two men familiar with inside knowledge of ISIS speak with CNN's Arwa Damon.
updated 9:15 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
If you're lucky, your train might be delayed.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 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