Emilie Todd Helm
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Emilie Todd Helm

Emilie Todd Helm was the daughter of Robert S. Todd and Elizabeth Humpreys Todd of Lexington, Ky. She was born into a wealthy family of exceptional advantages in both education and culture, which was afforded to few ladies of her time. She was the half-sister of Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln. In 1856 she married Benjiman Hardin Helm of Elizabethtown who was a member of the Kentucky Legislature. While serving as a Confederate General during the Civil War, at age 32, he was killed in September of 1863 at the battle of Chickamauga, Ga.

After her husband's death, the Lincoln's extended an invitation to Mrs. Helm. She arrived at the White House in December of 1863, accompanied by her daughter Katherine. President Lincoln was very solicitous and defended her presence at the White House against political attacks. Once when challenged about the appropriateness of her living there, Lincoln is reported to have replied, "Mrs. Lincoln and I will allow anyone we choose to visit us in the White House." Emilie later recalled in her diary: "Mr. Lincoln in the intimate talks we had was very much affected over the misfortunes of our family; and of my husband he said, 'You know, Little Sister, I tried to have Ben come with me. I hope you do not feel any bitterness or that I am in any way to blame for all this sorrow.' I answered it was 'the fortune of war' and that while my husband loved him and had been deeply grateful to him for his generous offer to make him an officer in the Federal Army, he had to follow his conscience and that for weal or woe he felt he must side with his own people. Mr. Lincoln put his arms around me and we both wept."

She visited again in the summer of 1864. Emilie was brought to the White House under the President's direct orders after she declined to attest to her loyalty to the Union when detained at Fort Monroe in Virginia. She noted in her diary: "Mr. Lincoln and my sister met me with the warmest affection, we were all too grief-stricken at first for speech. I have lost my husband, they have lost their fine little son Willie. Mary and I have lost three brothers in the Confederate service. We could only embrace each other in silence and tears. Our tears gathered silently and feel unheeded as with choking voices we tried to talk of immaterial things." Although the sisters shared their sorrows, the sisters' children quarreled over who was the President of the country-Jefferson Davis or Abraham Lincoln. Emilie's presence drew criticism to herself and the President. She became known as "The Rebel" by many Northerners.

After returning to Kentucky, she wrote the President, asking to send clothing to Confederate prisoners at Camp Douglas outside Chicago. Mr. Lincoln wrote the Union military commander of Kentucky that his sister-in-law had no protection against prosecution for disloyal actions: " Deal with her for current conduct, just as you would any other." Emilie wrote to Lincoln: "I have been a quiet citizen and request only the right which humanity and justice always gives to widows and orphans. I also would remind you that your miniť bullets have made us what we are." After this incident, Mr.and Mrs. Lincoln would not communicate with her sister, nor would they ever meet again.

After the war, Mrs. Helm and her children went from Lexington to Elizabethtown and finally, to support her family moved to Madison (Indiania) and later to Louisville were she taught piano lessons. In 1881, her nephew, Robert Todd Lincoln obtained for her an appointment as postmistress of Elizabethtown. She and her family resided in a house on West Poplar Street, known today as the McKinney House. Mrs. Helm and her daughters became active in the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which was named for her General Helm.

Her son, Ben Hardin Helm Jr. purchased a plantation home for his mother and sisters in Lexington, which they named "Helm Place", after her husband's home in Elizabethtown. Mrs. Helm attended many of the Confederate Veteran reunions and was given the title "Mother of the Brigade" by the former soldiers of the First Kentucky Brigade. She never remarried and wore mourning for husband for the remainder of her life. She was 93 years old when she died and was buried in the Todd plot at the Lexington City Cemetery.

  • Emilie Todd Helm and Mary Todd Lincoln's brothers George Todd, Alexander Todd, David Todd, and Samuel Todd all served in the Confederate Army. Alexander and Samuel was killed while fighting.
  • Actress Jill Clayurgh portray the voice of Emilie Todd Helm in the 1992 production of "Lincoln: Now He Belongs To The Ages"
  • The house where Emilie Todd Helm and her childeren resided while living in Elizabethtown is located on West Popular Street. It is a private residence. She also attended the Episcopal Church which is located at the corner of Popular and Mulberry.
  • Ben and Emilie Helm had three children, Katherine, Elodie and Ben Hardin Jr. Katherine became a well known artist, painting many portraits of the family and notables personalities,including one of her aunt Mary, that now hangs in the White House. Two of her portraits of the Pusey Family are on display at the Brown-Pusey House in Elizabethtown.
  • The Brown-Pusey House also has several items that belonged to the Ben Hardin Helm Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
  • As a kindness to her nephew,Robert Todd Lincoln, Mrs. Helm along with daughter's Katherine and Elodie unveiled the Lincoln statue located on the town square in Hodgenville.