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Gender and the White House


Social expectations were different for the First Lady than they were for the President. Ever since William Henry Harrison's campaign in 1840, many candidates for President presented themselves as simple men, born in a log cabin. Abraham Lincoln ran as "the railsplitter," a humble son of the frontier, familiar with physical labor and self-taught in the refinements of respectable society. Yet the Lincolns' western background was only an impediment for Mary Lincoln. Although she came from a genteel Kentucky family, she faced a stereotype commonly held in eastern society. Some expected her to embarrass the nation with uncouth "western" manners. She told Keckley: "The people scutinize every article that I wear with critical curiosity. The very fact of having grown up in the West, subjects me to more searching observation." This image references Lincoln's "railsplitter" reputation


Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Reproduction number LC-DIG-oonsca-17158.