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Lincoln to Mary Owens: I’m just not that into you

Meriah Doty
Movie Talk
November 20, 2012
Mary Owens, left, and President Lincoln
Mary Owens, left, and President Lincoln

Sure he got slavery abolished, inspired thousands upon thousands to sacrifice their lives in the name of freedom and equality, and was a heck of a public speaker. But Abraham Lincoln was also human and had faults. One of them: He was a tad shallow when it came to the ladies.

Yes, as it turns out, not much has changed in the dating world since the 1800s. And before Lincoln was betrothed to Mary Todd -- who was known to be quite a beauty in her day -- he had to blow off another Mary... Mary Owens.

[Related: Common legend around Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is off the mark]

Lincoln is said to have jokingly agreed to propose to Ms. Owens, who he met briefly in 1833. Ms. Owens lived in Kentucky and her sister, who kept needling Lincoln about a courtship, told him she would bring Ms. Owens back to Illinois only if he agreed to marry her.

The year 1836 rolled up and so did Ms. Owens -- who thought she was engaged. Quite displeased with her appearance, a confounded Lincoln instantly regretted his promise and grappled with how to handle the situation. Lincoln later wrote: "...when I beheld her, I could not for my life avoid thinking of my mother ; and this, not from withered features, for her skin was too full of fat to permit of its contracting into wrinkles, but from her want of teeth, weather-beaten appearance in general, and from a kind of notion that ran in my head that nothing could have commenced at the size of infancy and reached her present bulk in less than thirty-five or forty years ; and, in short, I was not at all pleased with her."


[Related: Amid Oscar buzz for his 'Lincoln' role, Tommy Lee Jones sheds light on Thaddeus Stevens]

Mary Todd
Mary Todd

During their engagement, Lincoln wrote three letters to Ms. Owens. One of which proved his historic powers of persuasion as it sent a subtle message to her that life with him would be miserable and that she could do better: "I am often thinking about what we said of your coming to live at Springfield. I am afraid you would not be satisfied. There is a great deal of flourishing about in carriages here; which it would be your doom to see without sharing in it. You would have to be poor without the means of hiding your poverty. Do you believe you could bear that patiently? ...What I have said I will most positively abide by, provided you wish it. My opinion is that you had better not do it. You have not been accustomed to hardship, and it may be more severe than you now immagine [sic]... I know you are capable of thinking correctly on any subject, and if you deliberate maturely upon this, before you decide, then I am willing to abide your decision."

Ms. Owens ended their engagement in the fall of 1837.

Two years later Lincoln met Mary Todd at a ball when he was practicing law and was part of the Illinois state legislature. When Todd was young she said she would one day marry a man who would become president of the United States and she felt she found that man in Lincoln. After an on-again-off-again engagement, the two wed in 1842.

"Lincoln" is in theaters now.

[Related: See showtimes for 'Lincoln']

Watch Daniel Day-Lewis and Steven Spielberg discuss 'Lincoln':

'Lincoln' Q&A: Finding the Voice 'Lincoln' Q&A: The Role of Fear

Watch the 'Lincoln' Theatrical Trailer:

'Lincoln' Theatrical Trailer
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