Mary Todd was born in 1818 in Lexington, Kentucky, the daughter of Eliza Parker and Robert Smith Todd. When Mary was six, her mother died, and her father soon remarried. Mary and her siblings didn't get along well with their stepmother. In one incident, ten-year-old Mary decided to make trendier Sunday School dress for her stepcousin and herself by sewing willow strips into the skirt as was the fashion of the day. Her stepmother strongly objected and forbade the girls to wear their "stylish" dresses. According to her stepcousin, Elizabeth Humphreys, "Mary burst into tears and gave the finest exhibition of temper I have ever seen or known her to make."
Although years later she wrote to her husband that her childhood had been "desolate," Mary Todd Lincoln had had some advantages that few other girls had at that time because she came from a well-to-do family, received an education, and was a belle in Lexington society when she was a young woman.