The beautiful Lucy Lambert Hale cut a broad swath through the hearts of Washington’s young bachelors in the 1860s, with suitors that included future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., John Hay, secretary to President Lincoln, and the president’s son Robert Todd Lincoln.
But it was the anonymous Valentine’s Day card she received in 1862 from a secret admirer, and the romance it spawned, for which she will be forever remembered.
Born in Dover, N.H., Hale was the daughter of John Parker Hale, U.S. senator from New Hampshire. He was a staunch abolitionist. In 1845, he barnstormed across New Hampshire for the cause of abolishing slavery. He participated in one famous debate with New Hampshire’s future president Franklin Pierce, and went on to challenge Pierce, a Democrat, in the 1852 presidential election as the nominee of the Free Soil Party. But he was ahead of his time, and Pierce won the election.
After that election, Hale would continue fighting slavery. As a lawyer, he led the successful defense of the Boston Vigilance Committee, which was prosecuted for rescuing and freeing a slave named Shadrach Minkins. He became a strong supporter of Abraham Lincoln and by 1862, he was serving his second stint in the U.S. Senate as an outspoken critic of slavery. Meanwhile, his daughter Lucy was turning heads both in New England and Washington.
Hale reportedly hoped that Lucy would make a match with Robert Todd Lincoln, when in 1862 she received an unusual Valentine:
My dear Miss Hale, were it not for the License with a time-honored observance of this day allows, I had not written you this poor note. ... You resemble in a most remarkable degree a lady, very dear to me, now dead and your close resemblance to her surprised me the first time I saw you. This must be my apology for any apparent rudeness noticeable. To see you has indeed afforded me a melancholy pleasure, if you can conceive of such, and should we never meet nor I see you again believe me, I shall always associate you in my memory, with her, who was very beautiful, and whose face, like your own I trust, was a faithful index of gentleness and amiability. With a Thousand kind wishes for your future happiness I am, to you,
Valentine’s Day at the time provided an opportunity for people to announce their affection for someone of a higher social standing to whom they might never be introduced. And that was very much the motive behind this note.
Lucy was captivated by the anonymous letter, and even more intrigued when she learned that it was from a handsome actor who was a heartthrob of the day: John Wilkes Booth.
Lucy Lambert Hale and Booth went from flirting to courting to betrothed over the next three years. While there is some evidence that Lucy’s father disapproved of Booth, it was because of his social standing as an actor. It isn’t known whether his views on Lincoln were known to the Hales. He almost certainly told them nothing of his plans to kidnap the president, which later turned into planning for the notorious assassination.
By some accounts, Lucy dined with Booth on the night of April 14, 1865 just two hours before he murdered the president.
When Booth was hunted down and killed in the aftermath of the assassination, Lucy’s picture was found on his body. Some reports say that she wept over his remains at the Washington Navy Yard when his body was returned to the capital. It seems more likely, however, that she had already fled Washington.
After the assassination, Lucy’s father immediately sprung in to action, defending his daughter. He had notice published in the newspaper that she and Booth were not engaged, as had been reported, and perhaps exerted influence behind the scenes to keep her from being enmeshed in the scandal. While everyone remotely connected to the assassination, even actors on stage at Ford’s Theater at the time of the killing, were rounded up in the aftermath, Lucy was never questioned in the investigation or trial of Booth’s co-conspirators. She quickly left the country with her father for Europe where she spent five years fending off suitors.
It wasn’t until 1874 that she would marry William Chandler, a lawyer from New Hampshire who went on to become a U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Navy. They had one child, and Lucy spent most of the rest of her life quietly dividing her time between Washington and Concord, N.H.
This story was updated from the 2014 version.