Stephenson County Historical Society

Sarah Bush Lincoln

Step-Mother of Abraham Lincoln

Photograph of Lincoln’s Stepmother Found

FREEPORT, IL, March 20, 2003 – The Stephenson County Historical Society of Freeport, Illinois (U.S.A.) is pleased to announce that they have the only known original photograph of Abraham Lincoln’s stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln.

The ambrotype, probably taken in the 1850s or early 1860s, had been quietly on display for many years as part of the Historical Society’s permanent Lincoln exhibit.

Joe Grove of Dixon, Illinois saw the photograph as he was visiting the museum to research some of the Civil War artifacts, and realized the importance of the photograph.  

Grove removed the ambrotype from the case and found a hand written inscription “Sally Bush – Abraham Lincoln’s Stepmother – Thomas Lincoln’s second wife.”

According to the Historical Society’s executive director, Suzy Beggin, the name “Sally” is significant.  Sally was a common nick-name for a woman named Sarah in the 19th century.   However, Beggin said, “A 19th century woman’s nick-name was considered intimate information.  Only very close friends and family members would have called her Sally.  To everyone else, she would have been ‘Mrs. Lincoln.’”  The inscription indicates that the photograph was identified by someone very close to the Lincoln family.

Until now, the only known photograph of Sarah Bush Lincoln was owned by Harriet (Hanks) Chapman, Lincoln’s step-niece.  Although there are many copies of that image, the whereabouts of the original are unknown.  The Historical Society’s photograph shows Mrs. Lincoln in a different pose from the well-known Harriet (Hanks) Chapman photograph.  

Local Lincoln collector George Buss recommended that the Historical Society contact The Rail Splitter, a quarterly journal dedicated to Lincoln collecting and memorabilia.  On behalf of the Historical Society, The Rail Splitter contacted Lincoln expert Dr. Wayne C. Temple, Chief Deputy Director of the Illinois State Archives, who studied the photograph.  In an article for The Rail Splitter authenticating the find, Dr. Temple writes “There can be little doubt that it is a genuine picture of Lincoln’s beloved stepmother.”

The photograph is on display at the Stephenson County Historical Society, 1440 S. Carroll Avenue in Freeport, Illinois.  The museum is open during the winter months (November – April) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from noon to four pm and the rest of the year Wednesday thru Sunday, noon to four.  Admission to the museum is free for Historical Society members or $3 for adults and $1 for children 6 to 12 years old. 

The Stephenson County Historical Society will host a reception on the evening of Saturday, July 12, 2003 for a private showing of the Sarah Bush Lincoln photograph.  Following the reception will be a program by Judge Frank J. Williams, chief justice of the supreme court of Rhode Island, foreman of The Lincoln Forum and noted Lincoln historian. 

For more information, contact Executive Director Suzy Beggin at (815) 232-8419, or by e-mail at

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The Winter 2003 edition of The Rail Splitter is available in the Museum Gift Shop for $6.  To have it mailed to you, add $3 shipping.  Funds from the sale support the Stephenson County Historical Society.

Copies of the photograph of Mrs. Lincoln are also available in the Museum Gift Shop Museum Gift Shop for $3.

Stephenson County Historical Society Home Page

Abraham Lincoln and Freeport, Illinois