Mary Lincoln “Peggy” Beckwith, Abraham Lincoln’s great-granddaughter, was a liberated woman who refused to conform to the social expectations of her time. She preferred pants and men’s shirts to wearing dresses. She enjoyed pursuits considered then to be more masculine than feminine, such as farming, hunting and fishing, golfing, photography, painting and sculpting, and car collecting. She also was an avid aviator who bought her own plane and built a landing strip on the Hildene grounds. One of Peggy’s friends said of her, “She should have been a man.”
Peggy Beckwith disliked being related to Abraham Lincoln. “I don’t care much about ancestors,” was a statement she often made. “It always provokes me when people stare at me and say, ‘That’s Lincoln’s great-granddaughter.’ For heaven’s sake! It was just luck that A.L. happened to be a relative!” When Peggy commented in 1963 that she disagreed with government-forced desegregation, a reporter asked how her great-grandfather would feel about her position. She replied, “I can’t say. I’m as far away from him as anyone.”
Peggy did at least once attend an event honoring her famous ancestor. On May 14, 1960, the new ballistic-missile, nuclear-powered submarine Abraham Lincoln was launched from Portsmouth, N.H. Mary Lincoln Beckwith, dressed uncharacteristically in a blue and white polka dot dress, white gloves, white hat, and a pearl necklace, broke a bottle of champagne on the bow and christened the ship. How impressed she was by the occasion is found in her diary, in which she recorded that night: “Cloudy a.m. Sun out p.m. Broke bottle on boat. So home to bed.”
Mary Lincoln Beckwith died July 10, 1975 in Rutland, Vt., from colon cancer at the age of seventy-seven. She never married or had any children.