Lucy Lambert Hale cut a broad swath through the hearts of Washington’s young bachelors in the 1860s. Her suitors 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.
Lucy Lambert Hale
Born Jan. 1, 1842 in Dover, N.H., Lucy Lambert Hale was the daughter of John Parker Hale and Lucy Hill Lambert. As a teenager she liked to flirt with men. Her manner toward them was described as ‘rapt attention laced with a hint of indifference and occasionally a touch of cruelty.’
Her father, a staunch abolitionist, served as a U.S. senator from New Hampshire. In 1845, he barnstormed across the state for the cause of abolishing slavery. He participated in one famous debate with New Hampshire’s future president Franklin Pierce. He then 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 continued fighting slavery. As a lawyer, he led the successful defense of the Boston Vigilance Committee, prosecuted for rescuing and freeing a slave named Shadrach Minkins. He strongly supported Abraham Lincoln. By 1862, he served his second stint in the U.S. Senate as an outspoken critic of slavery.
Meanwhile, his daughter Lucy turned heads both in New England and Washington. Men considered her beautiful, with her dark hair, blue eyes, clear complexion and stunning figure.
Her father reportedly hoped Lucy would make a match with Robert Todd Lincoln.
Then 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, someone to whom they might never be introduced. And that was very much the motive behind this note.
The anonymous letter captivated Lucy Lambert Hale. It intrigued her even more when she learned it came from the handsome actor and heartthrob John Wilkes Booth.
Lucy Lambert Hale and John Wilkes Booth went from flirting to courting to betrothed over the next three years.
Some evidence shows that Lucy’s father disapproved of Booth because of his social standing as an actor.
Whether the Hales knew about his views toward Lincoln isn’t known. He almost certainly told them nothing of his plans to kidnap the president, which later turned into the assassination plot.
Manhunt and Cover-up
By some accounts, Lucy dined with Booth on the night of April 14, 1865 just two hours before he murdered the president.
When federal troops hunted down and killed John Wilkes Booth, they found Lucy’s picture on his body. Some reports say she wept over his remains at the Washington Navy Yard when his body returned to the capital. However, she had probably already fled Washington.
Immediately after the assassination, Lucy’s father sprang in to action to his daughter. He had a notice published in the newspaper that she and Booth were not engaged, as reported. He also, perhaps, exerted influence behind the scenes to keep her free of the scandal.
After the assassination, investigators rounded up anyone remotely connected to it, even actors on stage at Ford’s Theater. But they never questioned Lucy 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.
Not until 1874 did she marry William Chandler, a New Hampshire lawyer elected to the U.S. Senate and appointed 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 about John Wilkes Booth’s love interest was updated in 2021.