Jean H. Baker, "Lincoln, Mary Todd," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/04/04-00632.html.
In addition to her role as a mother and housewife, Lincoln was absorbed in politics and worked to promote her husband's career. She wrote patronage letters, advocated his election, and even followed legislative choices in his senatorial campaigns. After Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, she ambitiously sought for herself the role of an influential first lady. Wearing stunning gowns and shawls, she tried to define American fashion. She tastefully renovated the White House, especially the downstairs public rooms, and entertained at parties designed to display to foreign ambassadors the power of the Union. She established an informal American salon, where public men and literary figures discussed the topics of the day. Besides these extensions of domestic roles, Lincoln sought a controversial voice in her husband's patronage appointments, including his cabinet…A vivacious belle in her youth, the short, plump Lincoln was an important and controversial first lady who expanded that role's authority. Stepping outside of the traditional female role of homemaker into the male-dominated world of public affairs, she was often criticized for her behavior. Extravagant, high-strung, and tempestuous, she nonetheless played an important role in her husband's ascent to the presidency and made the unpaid but demanding position of first lady into a post of influence.