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Mary Henry Timeline


This lesson can serve as an introduction to the Lincoln Assassination or as a standalone lesson on the analysis of a primary source document. The lesson asks students to create a timeline of events surrounding the assassination using Mary Henry’s diary entries alone. Students will use the diary to build a framework of the timeline and then look critically at the entries to intuit where information is missing or seems incorrect, or if there is a bias on the part of Miss Henry. The final step in the process to brainstorm other sources (other voices) historians might look to in order verify facts, fill in gaps and balance perspective and potential bias.

Eyewitness accounts of an event are often the best lens through which to view it. Mary Henry (1834-1903) was the daughter of the Superintendent of the Smithsonian Institution and lived in the Smithsonian Castle during the Civil War. From her vantage point in the Castle, she could see the border state of Maryland, as well as Confederate Virginia. Her diary gives a glimpse into the goings-on of Washington, D.C., society and the Union capital during the years of the Civil War. Her diary entries about the Lincoln assassination and its aftermath not only afford the vantage point of one, personal experience, but also a first person recollection of newspaper and other eyewitness accounts. Historians shouldn’t view Mary Henry’s account as the sum of all knowledge on the assassination, but it is an excellent starting point from which to explore the events in Washington, D.C., in April 1865.

Guiding Questions

  • How do primary source documents display information differently than secondary sources?
  • Why are primary sources important?
  • Why is brainstorming a useful activity for history?


  • Analyze one primary source document, looking for details, missing data and bias
  • Model collaborative work habits through peer review
  • Facilitate a group discussion



Lesson Activity One: Transcript Close Reading
Lesson Activity Two: Timeline
Lesson Activity Three: Peer Review
Lesson Activity Four: Recreating the event
Lesson Activity Five: Assessment

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  • Grade Level

    6 to 8

  • Timeframe

    1 classes (45 min/period)

  • Class Subject


  • Skills

    Primary Source Analysis, Peer Review

  • Teacher Information

    Dave McIntire

    The Independent School, Wichita, KS

    7, 8


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