Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker
A NovelBook - 2013
In a life that spanned nearly a century and witnessed some of the most momentous events in American history, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave. She earned her freedom by the skill of her needle and won the friendship of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln with her devotion. In her sweeping historical novel, Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini illuminates the extraordinary relationship the two women shared, beginning in the hallowed halls of the White House during the trials of the Civil War and enduring almost, but not quite, to the end of Mrs. Lincoln's days.
Elizabeth Keckley made her professional reputation in Washington, DC, making expertly fashioned dresses for the city's elite, among them Mrs. Jefferson Davis and Mrs. Robert E. Lee. In March 1861, Mrs. Lincoln chose her from among numerous applications to be her personal 'modiste,' responsible for creating the First Lady's beautiful gowns and dressing her for important occasions. In this role, Elizabeth Keckley was quickly drawn into the intimate life of the Lincoln family, a clear-eyed but compassionate witness to events within the private quarters of the White House.
Ever loyal to the Union, Elizabeth Keckley hid her fears when her only son, George, enlisted with the first Missouri Volunteers, and his courage in battle inspired her bold new endeavors. When then of thousands of former slaves sought refuge in Washington, she cared for them in their squalid camps, taught them sewing and other necessary skills, founded the Contraband Relief Association-to which Mary Todd Lincoln was a generous contributor-and worked tirelessly to raise money so that the struggling freedmen could embrace their newfound liberty. All the while, Elizabeth Keckley supported the First Lady through years of war, political strife, and devastating personal losses, even as she endured heartbreaking tragedies of her own.
Even more daring, Keckley not only made history but also wrote it, in her own words. The publication of her memoir, Behind the Scenes- Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House , placed her at the center of a scandal she ever intended. The sensational fallout distanced the longtime confidantes, and for the rest of her days Elizabeth Keckley sought redemption through living an exemplary life.
Impeccably researched and thoroughly engrossing, Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker renders this singular story of intertwining lives in rich, moving style.