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Mothering Honest Abe

In honor of President’s Day, I want to share with you a story that you may not know about one of our most popular and most important presidents, Abraham Lincoln. At the age of nine, Abe’s mother died, leaving he and an older sister. Shortly thereafter, Abe’s father married a childhood friend, the widowed Sarah Bush Johnston, altering the life of the future 16th President.

Sarah, despite being illiterate herself, brought with her to the marriage all of her worldly possessions, which included a few books. She encouraged young Abe to read, which he took to with aplomb. “He read all the books he could get his hands on,” Sarah recalled later in life. Abe progressed quickly, growing in skill and yet always giving his stepmother credit for his love of books and his ever-expanding education.

Known as a firm but kind-hearted woman, Sarah’s influence on Abe was immense given his later career trajectory. As Abe was heard to say, his stepmother proved to be a “good and kind mother.”

When Sarah's health began to wane, President Lincoln returned to see her. During this last visit home, he told a friend that she had been his best friend in this world and that no son could love a mother more than he loved her.

Abe was assassinated in 1865. Sarah outlived him by four years, buried in a dress given to her by Abe on his last visit. But until her dying day she heartily recounted stories and impressions of her son Abe. "His mind and mine, what little I had, seemed to run together, more in the same channel.”

While "stepmom" is a term fraught with negative connotations, the influence of Sarah on Abe's life cannot be overstated. For without Sarah’s mothering, President Abraham Lincoln, may not have had the conscientiousness and integrity to lead America though some of its darkest days.

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