Online Exhibit

Lincoln's Retreat

Mrs. Lincoln enjoyed the social prominence of being First Lady and the relative luxury of the White House. However, the death of her son turned the White House into a “private hell.” Already exhibiting mental health problems, Willie's death pushed Mrs. Lincoln toward a total breakdown. She remained in mourning for over a year, attempted to contact Willie through séances, and became erratic and demanding.  


To help cope with the loss of Willie and to escape the sweltering Washington heat, the Lincoln family began to spend their summers at the Soldier’s Home, located in northeast DC near Catholic University. Originally built for George W. Riggs in 1842, it became a Military Asylum in the 1850s for disabled army vets, and eventually a Presidential retreat frequented by James Buchanan, Chester Arthur, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Lincoln.


Unfortunately, the picturesque setting and relative seclusion of this retreat did not always ease the President's mind. Before heading to the Soldier's Home one summer, Lincoln would write, "Two or three weeks [of vacation] would do me no good. I cannot fly from my thoughts - my solicitude for this great country follows me wherever I go."




Portrait of Lincoln's Family, with a painting of Willie Lincoln hanging in the background, ca. 1863


Postcard of the Military Asylum, before it became known as The Soldier's Home, ca. 1860


Photograph of The Soldier's Home, ca. 1920-1929