What was behind Mary Todd Lincoln's bizarre behavior?

Story highlights

  • The first lady's ill health, stormy moods led some to suggest insanity
  • But a modern doctor and scholar believes she had pernicious anemia

(CNN)Historians have long been fascinated with the behavior of Mary Todd Lincoln.

She was one of the most interesting and polarizing first ladies of the 19th century: Her unusually stormy moods, coupled with rumors of delusions, constant headaches and pallor, have led historians to suggest that she was "insane," "hypochondriacal," "menstrual" and the "female wild cat of the age."
    But a modern doctor and scholar, Dr. John Sotos, has a much more sympathetic take on her affliction. He believes she suffered from an ailment that probably would not have been diagnosed, an extremely common health problem in her time that is rare today.
      After researching his new book and publishing a study in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Sotos wants to end the ailment argument once and for all.
        Sotos, who was a medical technical adviser for the TV show "House M.D.," believes he has solved one of the great medical mysteries of American history.

        Mary Todd Lincoln, a paradox

          But before we share Sotos' professional medical opinion, you may be wondering why there is a debate about the health of a woman who hasn't been to the doctor in 150 years.
          When it comes to her health, biographer Jean Baker describes her as "the reverse of Teflon."
          "Every medical diagnosis has been postulated about her, it runs the gamut from Lyme disease to chronic fatigue to diabetes," said Baker, an award-winning historian at Goucher College.