Episode 70: Mary Lincoln Part Two

Posted 11 June 2016 by
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In our last episode we talked about Mary’s childhood, education and life as the wife of Abraham Lincoln. She was described as, “amiable, accomplished, gracious and a sparkling talker,” by members of the Republican Party before she got to Washington…so what happened afterward that left her without this glowing impression?

Frida Kahlo may have approved of the fluffy dresses and floral head bling.

Frida Kahlo may have approved of the fluffy dresses and floral head bling.


By the time Mary arrived in Washington she had almost completely lost her role as adviser in residence to Abraham and the couple was viewed as a uncultured pioneers. To make her PR situation worse, she made some missteps. Her plan to rehab the run-down and shabby White House to reflect the glory and honor of the United States was ambitious, successful…and expensive. She blew her budget.

The Lincoln china is the first State Dinner Service chosen entirely by a First Lady. (Smithsonian)

The Lincoln china is the first State Dinner Service chosen entirely by a First Lady see link in Time Travel for more about this set. (Smithsonian)

As part of Mary’s vision that the couple in the White House was a symbol of military power, she modeled her style after Empress Eugenie (wife of Napoleon III) and over-bought on her lavish wardrobe.wore it better

All of this while the country was at war with itself. One month before Lincoln took office, Jefferson Davis was elected as President of the Confederate States of America and the White House that Mary moved into was surrounded by a camp of Union soldiers. But Mary was determined to do things her way, and with the help of her new bestie/seamstress, Elizabeth Keckley not only kept up the spend-a-thon but also did quite a bit for the war effort. Guess which one the press saw and reported on? Hint: Not the one where she was helping injured soldiers or working for the Contraband Relief Society.

Elizabeth Keckley, former slave who bought her freedom and worked her way up to seamstress for Washington elite and confident of Mary Lincoln. We liked her so much (spoiler alert) we're going to cover her in the next episode.

Elizabeth Keckley, former slave who bought her freedom, worked her way up to seamstress for Washington elite and became confident of Mary Lincoln. We liked her so much (spoiler alert) we’re going to give her her own episode.

Mary plowed through it all, she was just getting her feet on solid ground when she threw her first lavish Christmas party, but good times were not to be had by the Lincoln family that night. Upstairs, their sons Tad and Willy were spiking fevers. They most likely had contracted typhoid fever and while Tad pulled through- Willy did not. Mary was launched back into grief.

The Lincoln Family after Willie's death (Note "Thaddeus" but you know better, don't you?) Currier and Ives (Library of Congress)

The Lincoln Family after Willie’s death (Note “Thaddeus” but you know better, don’t you?) Currier and Ives (Library of Congress)

We talk more about Mary’s life as First Lady during the podcast, her growing reliance on Spiritualists, more things that she did that shined a poor light on her and how Mary and Abe’s relationship endured through the storm of the Civil War. Lincoln was re-elected in 1864, and on April 9, 1865 the war that had been coloring his presidency and the lives of all Americans was technically over.

Five days later the couple had a lovely day that ended in a tragic, life changing and life-ending night at Ford’s Theater. Because Abraham died without a will, and it was 1865 and Mary was a woman (that’s a double aaaargh sentence!) Mary’s life was spun into chaos. Mounting debt lead her to a failed and humiliating attempt to sell her wardrobe; years of fighting for her share of Abe’s estate (and more drama with both her son, Robert, and Abe’s former law partner) finally resulted in a payout but what she felt was a betrayal by her friend, Mrs. Keckley, was more than she could take. Mary and Tad to  moved to Europe for a few years. Her life calmed a bit until a return trip to the United States: within six months Tad had died and she spiraled into more unusual behavior.

Creepy to us, comforting to Mary.

Creepy to us, comforting to Mary.

Or, maybe her son Robert decided it was unusual and built a case to have her institutionalized…we speculate but however it happened, she was brought to trial, declared insane and spent a few months institutionalized until she was able to build a legal case for release. She lived for awhile with her sister Elizabeth, moved to France for a few years but returned when her health took a turn. She lived her final years with her sister until she died of a stroke on July 15, 1882 at the age of 64.





Museums: Let’s go on a trip, shall we?

Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinios All Lincoln, all the time.

Mary Todd Lincoln House– The first house museum in America to honor a First Lady was her  childhood home in Lexington KY…except for the part where she never really lived there, only visited. Small detail. It is beautiful, though and has a LOT of learnin’ to be had.  Or you could visit the house where she actually lived for 24 years, threw all those parties and oversaw the expansion of…Lincoln House, Springfield Illinois. Or both. How’s that for a Lincoln Pilgrimage?

History Chicks Idea Book for Lexington travel (it’s about bourbon, of course): Visit Lexington, learn about bourbon or take a short jaunt to Bardstown and the Museum of Whiskey. (For the non-bourbony crowd: Lexington Walking Tour.) distillery-barrels-591602_1280

Mary went on a couple European trips, here are some details about those!

How about  a trip to the store, then a trip to the kitchen with your kids and throw a Strawberry Party complete with Mary Lincoln’s White Almond cake? strawberries-29740_960_720


Websites: Let’s just click around, shall we?

If you want to read more about Abraham Lincoln (we focus on the women here, as you may have noticed) here is a biography of his life from the White House (well, their website) and if you didn’t think politics was confusing enough, here is how the Republican and Democratic parties switched platforms!

Want to learn more about Mary and her Spiritualists? How about other essays on the White House in general (and pictures!)? Mr Lincoln’s White House

White House China– an ebook all about the china! The pieces, the symbolism, the stories behind all the china Mary purchased while First Lady…everything!

First Ladies dot org has biographies of ALL the First Ladies!

White House ghosts your thing?

Mary’s half-brother, Lieutenant David Todd was a very cruel man who was given some power in the Confederate Army (and soon had it taken away).

Was Ann Rutledge the love of Abe’s life? Spoiler alert: probably not, but read about how that came to be believed here.



Books: Let’s read, shall we?

Jean H. Baker

Jean H. Baker

Various authors, 13 essays about Mary

Various authors, 13 essays about Mary


Daniel Mark Epstein

Michael Varhola

Michael Varhola

smartest room kru;;

Kathleen Krull

Tanya Larkin

Tanya Larkin

Movies: Let’s sit on our heinies and eat popcorn!

With Sally Field as Mary

With Sally Field as Mary

With Mary Tyler Moore ad Mary

With Mary Tyler Moore as Mary

And, finally, because you can count on us to bring you the most highbrow material available:

(And we will take every single opportunity to share a Drunk History)


Episode 69: Mary Todd Lincoln, Part One

Posted 4 June 2016 by
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Mary Todd Lincoln’s life can’t be defined by who she married and her husband’s legacy–she was a lot more than simply a southern born wife of a president. Actually, she wasn’t simple at all.


Mary circa 1847 (wikicommons)


Episode 68: Madam C.J. Walker

Posted 14 May 2016 by
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When Madam C.J. Walker solved one of her own personal problems, she also created an opportunity to leave behind a life as a laundress for one as a successful businesswoman, philanthropist and civil rights activists and she was able to take thousands of women with her. Alaia Williams from the 18 to 49 Podcast graciously fills in as guest co-host with Beckett to talk about the life of this trailblazing role model who began to change her fate by changing the condition of her hair.

Madam C.J. Walker

Madam C.J. Walker

Rags to riches stories don’t happen without a lot of hard work, the ability to fill a need, hard work, perseverance and- yeah- hard work. Madam C.J. Walker’s life was all that and more. When she was born on December 23, 1867 in Delta Louisiana, her given name was Sarah Breedlove – and she was the first person in her family who was not born a slave. This fact makes it sound like the family’s life was improving, but they were extremely poor sharecroppers and laundresses; none of the children went to school and by the time Sarah was seven, both of her parents had died.


Episode 67: Q&A Number Two

Posted 2 May 2016 by
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***********We had a tech glitch on our website player, it’s corrected now but if you tried to play it before you may have to clear your cache to get the Q&A 2 episode on this player*****

What would you serve Dorothy Parker for dinner? When are you covering the Schuyler sisters? What would you tell your high school history teacher? We get a lot of questions and love them all (except maybe the mean ones). Some are asked quite often or were so good that we thought, “hmmm, maybe a lot more people would like to know this but were too busy to ask it, perhaps we should have a colloquy,” (because we’re fancy like that.)

And then Beckett talked Susan out of actually using the word, “colloquy.”

See? Fancy.

See? Fancy.


Episode 66: Zelda Fitzgerald

Posted 22 April 2016 by
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Southern-born Flapper? Trophy wife of famous writer? Jazz Age fashion icon? Wild and selfish woman-child who went off the deep end?  Zelda Fitzgerald has been remembered in all of these ways – but none are entirely correct, nor do they describe this unique woman who lived a very complex life in an ever-changing world.

Zelda_Fitzgerald_portrait framed

Zelda was a southern born flapper. No argument there. Zelda Sayre began her life on July 24, 1900 in Montgomery, Alabama. She grew up in a socially prominent (although financially upper middle class at best) family as the loved-by-everyone, charming, energetic, brave and highjinky youngest child. She was a skilled ballet dancer, a fearless flirt and an incomparable Orange Blossom sipping beauty. Young gentlemen filled her dance card, frat boys swore their devotion to her and aviators flew over her house just to be noticed by her.

She became a Jazz Age icon and first wave flapper when she and her new husband–freshly published, (gasp!) Yankee writer, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald– arrived in New York City to a life of instant literary fame in 1920. She defined the flapper: bold, brave, reckless and fun loving young women who threw off stuffy formality along with their corsets. Zelda and Scott lived a very public life of opulence as the poster couple for the wild, monied and creative set in both the US and Europe. Wherever they went partying followed; whatever they did somehow was used as material for Scott’s novels, articles and short stories. His second book, The Beautiful and the Damned, was so filled with their likenesses the publisher went ahead and marketed it with a couple that looked an awful lot like them on the cover.Beautifuldamed

The whole Youth on a Wild Bender life sounds kind of dreamy…for a short time, but the pair made “never settling down” a lifestyle. Even the birth of their only child, Frances Scott Fitzgerald (Scottie) didn’t slow them down. New York, Paris, the Riviera, Hollywood…they kept moving, Scott kept writing (and drinking), Zelda kept helping to critique (and write) his work and giving him fodder for the novels, short stories and articles that supported them. But the more Zelda lost herself into their marriage–into Scott’s literature–the more troubled she became.

Circa 1921, Zelda was pregnant with Scottie. (wikicommons)

Circa 1921, Zelda was pregnant with Scottie. (wikicommons)

We give a disclaimer that we TRIED to achieve middle-ground between Team Scott (she was his muse but also his crazy wife who pulled him down) and Team Zelda (she was an emotionally abused wife whose mental condition had more to do with an alcoholic husband, exhaustion and unnecessary and harmful medical treatment than simply an existing mental illness). We probably failed to completely achieve middle-ground.

We’re okay with that.

Zelda tried to find and throw herself into creative outlets for herself ONLY–her OWN writing, ballet dancing, painting all of which she was very good at. These activities worked to help her express herself and to keep it together…until they didn’t. His behavior towards her– multiple affairs (she wasn’t exactly innocent here, either), alcohol induced dramas, panic from massive debts mounting, dismissing her art, her writing, her value, and blaming her for any family failures– only pushed her spiral downward.

The wife, the girl friend. hmmm...

The wife, the Hollywood girl friend. hmmm…

When Zelda was hospitalized in 1930 she was immediately diagnosed as schizophrenic (most likely incorrectly diagnosed) and moved (was forced?) into the next phase of her life: 18 years spent in and out of mental institutions. As part of her therapy she painted and wrote an autobiographical novel, Save Me the Waltz, that allowed her to tell her story through her lens, not Scott’s. She sent it to Scott’s publisher behind his back, but in the end he still managed to put his imprint on the book.



We tell a lot more of Zelda’s story in the podcast, give anecdotes and opinions to fill in the black and white impression that many have of her very colorful life.

Scott Fitzgerald died of a heart attack in 1940. Eight years later, on March 10, 1948 Zelda was locked into her room for the night at Highland hospital in Ashville, North Carolina, the psychiatric facility where she had been living, when a fire broke out and she died. She was 48 years old. She is buried with Scott and Scottie (who lived a long and pretty normal life) in Maryland.  The words on their tombstone is the final sentence from Scott’s most famous book, The Great Gatsby:

“So we beat on; boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

flikr cc Mr.TinDC

Even in death, Scott got the last word. Maybe spending an hour listening to her story will let Zelda’s voice be heard.



We dug up a hefty collection of links and materials that would make Zelda blush with pride. Probably.

We’ll start off by bucking convention (Zelda would have it no other way) and get you in the mood with the end song that we didn’t play. Tiny Victories, Scott and Zelda


You want to see her art (you do, trust us) and instead of breaking copyright laws we’ll simply send you to ART.COM. (Not sponsored, we always tell you if something is.) 

Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery Alabama, housed in the last house the couple rented 1931-’32. Going would be your best bet, but clicking through the collections online is a good second place.

Fitzgerald Museum

Fitzgerald Museum

Scott and Zelda website, by their family– it’s pretty.

You really, really  REALLY ought to go check out our Pinterest board for Zelda.



Edited by Matthew Bruccoli

Edited by Matthew Bruccoli

2011 Nancy Milford

2011 Nancy Milford

2012 Sally Cline

2012 Sally Cline

Theresa Anne Fowler

Fiction: Theresa Anne Fowler


We didn’t talk much about it but did touch on the 2011 Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris. Here is a scene, you tell us if you think Alison Pill as Zelda is what you imagined her to be.

Zelda Fitzgerald: The Musical, You can watch the whole thing on this site. Theater! Without leaving the house! In your jammies or MeUndies loungewear! (That is totally sponsored)

Not a movie, but the Amazon Prime original,  Z: The Beginning of Everything has one episode with Christina Ricci as Zelda available to stream for the low, low price of $0.00.

We couldn’t help (when we lined-up with Team Zelda) but think back to Gaslight with Ingrid Bergman, the 1944 movie about a man who makes his wife believe that she is crazy.


Do you find yourself on Team Zelda? We have a shirt for that. Check out our shop for all our Chick Gear.

History Chicks Baby/Pet/Car Name Guide entry: Zelda. Read all about the name at Appellation Mountain.

You guys all know to Snopes something before you share it, right? (It’s okay, we’ve all done it once or twice). Here is the story behind the List of Reasons for Admission to an Insane Asylum, early 1900s. 

If you are drawn to Zelda because of an interest in psychotherapy (as in learning about it, not necessarily undergoing it) (not that there is anything wrong with that) here is the handy dandy guide that Beckett mentioned comparing Jung and Freud. 

They make it look so easy…and no Dippity Do! (Which, apparently, is still a thing! Dippity-Do.com)


And finally, super special thanks to this week’s sponsors, MeUndies and Green Chef!


Episode 65: Miss Potter Moviecast

Posted 2 April 2016 by
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In the middle of recording the media section of the Beatrix Potter episode we started to discuss the 2006 movie, Miss Potter starring Renee Zellweger as Beatrix when we realized that we both had a lot to say about it.

“Let’s do a moviecast!”

So we did.film-158157_1280 poster


Episode 64: Beatrix Potter

Posted 26 March 2016 by
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Once upon a time there were four little rabbits with very familiar names who knew a quiet girl named Beatrix Potter. Beatrix loved animals, nature and art…and one day she would make them the most famous rabbits in the world.

Beatrix, 1913 (wikicommons)

Beatrix, 1913 (wikicommons)

Helen Beatrix Potter was born July 26, 1866 to Rupert and Helen Potter. Her little brother, Bertram, was born six years later. Rupert was professionally a lawyer, but recreationally an art collector and amateur photographer. Helen was involved in some philanthropic organizations and ran a very tight ship (trying to be nice here).

Beatrix and Helen. She wasn't a mean, horrible, abusive mother she was just hired the right staff so she could be protective by proxy.

Beatrix and Helen. She wasn’t a mean, horrible, abusive mother she simply hired the right staff so she could be protective by proxy.


Episode 63: Catherine the Great Part Two

Posted 4 March 2016 by
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When we last left the Grand Duchess Catherine, she was feeling alone, unloved and unnecessary. She had just given birth and the child, Paul, heir to the Russian Empire, was ripped from her arms to be raised by Empress Elizabeth. Not cool, Elizabeth, not cool at all.

Still a Grand Duchess (wikimedia commons, public domain)

Still a Grand Duchess (wikimedia commons, public domain)

Catherine’s postpartum solitude did afford her time to read…and think…and plan. Elizabeth wasn’t getting any younger and it wasn’t that hard to imagine Peter as a very inept Czar. All of Catherine’s reading about historic rulers and enlightened thinkers was helping form ideas on how best to rule Russia. Once she stepped back out into society she transitioned from, “Charming But Decorative” to “Charming and Fierce.” She began to not only call out people who wronged her, but –in Survivor terms– she played a really strong social game. She spotted her allies and brought them into her circle, and the rest? She kept track of their moves, distanced herself when necessary, played them when required and kept them guessing. Smile. Charm. Don’t let them see you scheme.

Good plan. (more…)

Episode 62: A Conversation with Carol Wallace

Posted 5 February 2016 by
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Life. It’s funny, you know? Like the time both of us were sick for so long that we couldn’t record Catherine the Great Part 2 for this week’s show but, instead, have this conversation between Beckett and Carol Wallace?

Funny in a “well, that’s a little different” way.

In 2010 one of us- Beckett- wanted to hear a podcast like her favorite book of all time, To Marry an English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carol Wallace, but couldn’t find one. So we made one.

In 2014 we had drinks with Carol Wallace.

In 2015 this conversation was recorded and lived in a computer until now.

The book that inspired this podcast AND Downton Abbey!

The book that inspired this podcast AND Downton Abbey!


Episode 61: Catherine the Great, Part One

Posted 22 January 2016 by
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Every once and again we hold a Guaranteed Content poll so that you, the listeners, can pick a subject for us. This time you chose well, nay, you chose great and this is that episode! Actually, it’s TWO episodes devoted to the life, loves, power and accomplishments of Catherine the Great.



Catherine the Great didn’t start out life very great and she didn’t start out as a Catherine either. *deep breath* Sophia Auguste Frederike von Anhalt- Zerbst was born on April 21, 1792 (or May 2nd if you’re using a a Gregorian calendar) in Stettin, Prussia (now Szczecin, Poland). She was the first child of Christian August who was a frugal, minor prince of a minor principality, and Joanna Elizabeth of Holstein- Gottorp, an entitled princess who felt she had been married off poorly.

Papa Christian and Mama Joanna

Papa Christian and Mama Joanna