Ann Rutledge (January 7, 1813 – August 25, 1835) was allegedly Abraham Lincoln's first love.
Born near Henderson, Kentucky, Ann Mayes Rutledge was the third of ten children born to Mary Ann Miller Rutledge and James Rutledge. In 1829, her father, along with John M. Cameron, founded New Salem, Illinois. Many of the facts of her life are lost to history, but some historians believe that she was the first love of Abraham Lincoln. The exact nature of the Lincoln-Rutledge relationship has been fiercely debated by historians and non-historians for over a century. It is fairly well established the two were at least friends.
The story goes that Rutledge was engaged to marry John MacNamar, a dubious character who left for New York and promised to marry her upon his return. Rutledge and Lincoln met after this and supposedly fell in love while MacNamar was away and she promised to marry Lincoln after MacNamar released her. For a time Rutledge and MacNamar exchanged letters, but his letters became more formal and "less ardent in turn" and eventually ceased completely. MacNamar never returned before her death.
In 1835, a wave of typhoid hit the town of New Salem. Ann Rutledge died at the age of 22 on August 25, 1835. This sad event left Lincoln severely depressed. Historian John Y. Simon reviewed the historiography of the subject and concluded, "Available evidence overwhelmingly indicates that Lincoln so loved Ann that her death plunged him into severe depression." An anonymous poem about suicide published locally exactly three years after her death is widely attributed to Lincoln. Many years later, after Lincoln's first election as President, Isaac Cogdal, Lincoln's old friend, ventured to ask whether it was true that Lincoln had fallen in love with Ann. "It is true- true indeed I did," Lincoln replied. "I loved the woman dearly and soundly: she was a handsome girl- would have made a good loving wife...I did honestly and truly love the girl and think often-often of her now."
After Lincoln's assassination in 1865, his friend and law partner William Herndon first revealed the story of the supposed romance between Rutledge and Lincoln, much to Mary Todd Lincoln's anger and dismay. However, Herndon despised Mary Todd Lincoln and may have fabricated or enhanced the story of a romance between Ann Rutledge and Abraham Lincoln to serve as a "thorn in the side" of Mary Todd Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln's surviving son Robert Todd Lincoln was also upset by Herndon's claim. Most of Herndon's sources came from interviews with Lincoln's early friends in New Salem and Ann's relatives. The story was later repeated by Herndon in several lectures and books.
Several historians have claimed that the evidence of a love affair between Lincoln and Rutledge is tenuous at best. In his Lincoln the President, historian James G. Randall wrote a chapter entitled "Sifting the Ann Rutledge Evidence" which cast doubt on the nature of her and Lincoln's relationship.
Lewis Gannett, writing in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, claims that "Nearly sixty years after James G. Randall delivered a seeming coup de grâce to the Ann Rutledge legend, the legend may be nearing a second death." However, since William Herndon was not the only witness to the Lincoln-Rutledge relationship, efforts to minimize her role in Lincoln's early life have so far failed.
Ann Mayes Rutledge was laid to rest in the Old Concord Burial Ground; however, the body was exhumed and then buried in the Oakland Cemetery in Petersburg, Illinois, when an undertaker became financially interested in the cemetery in 1890. At this time the cheap stone marker was replaced with a granite monument that included the lyrics of Edgar Lee Masters and reads:
Out of me unworthy and unknown
The Vibrations of deathless music
With malice toward none, with charity toward all
Out of me, forgiveness of millions toward millions
And the beneficent face of a nation
Shining with justice and truth
I am Ann Rutledge who sleeps beneath these weeds
Beloved of Abraham Lincoln
Wedded to him, not through union
But through separation
Bloom forever, oh Republic
From the dust of my Bosom