She apparently sold Lincoln’s annual letter to Congress — which is what the State of the Union Address used to be — to a newspaper to raise money to buy stuff for the White House. And that of course was a huge transgression, and the House seriously thought of calling her up and investigating her. Lincoln stopped that.
The thing that I think people don’t understand about Mary, or don’t give her credit for, is that when they came to the White House, it was in an absolute shambles — as was the country. Obviously, it was falling apart in 1861. And I think because she came from a political family and had a very keen sense of political theater, she knew that the backdrop for the Lincoln administration had to be splendid and suggest power and coherence, since the U.S. at that moment was anything but coherent. It was disintegrating.
And she did it. When you look at the engravings from the time, people were clearly just blown away at how beautiful the place was. And she deserves an enormous amount of credit for doing that with almost no budget.
(Photo credit: Nicholas H. Shepherd)