Skip to main content

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

By Melissa Gray
February 21, 2013 -- Updated 2258 GMT (0658 HKT)
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The letter is being offered for sale by the Raab Collection, a dealer in historical documents, valued at $15,000.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
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 2319 GMT (0719 HKT)
China and likely other countries have the capacity to shut down the U.S. power grid, says the NSA.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
If it wasn't for a comic's skit, Bill Cosby would still be America's favorite father, says expert.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Obama orders the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration in decades, prioritizing the deportation of "felons, not families."
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2106 GMT (0506 HKT)
Fighters loyal to ISIS are now in control of Derna, a city on Libya's Mediterranean coast.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1945 GMT (0345 HKT)
The founder of a U.S. nonprofit that works with returning soldiers is named CNN's Hero of the Year.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1324 GMT (2124 HKT)
It's a very big challenge but NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan thinks it can be done.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0039 GMT (0839 HKT)
CNN's Atika Shubert explains how the most recent ISIS video differs from the other previous hostage execution videos.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
A Syrian cleric condemns ISIS and its execution of U.S. hostage Peter Kassig.
November 16, 2014 -- Updated 1720 GMT (0120 HKT)
Volunteer fighters in eastern Ukraine dig down just 800 meters from the front line.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
TV anchor wears the same suit for a year. Female colleague wears new outfit daily. Who gets criticized?
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1204 GMT (2004 HKT)
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