Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

A Novel

Book - 2013
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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.

Publisher: New York : Dutton, 2013
ISBN: 9780525953616
Branch Call Number: F CHI
Characteristics: 356 p. ; 24 cm


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Feb 11, 2018

I found this book was quite a good read. Mind you I lost some patience with Mrs Lincoln!

Nov 20, 2017

Chiaverini has written a historical novel based on the relationship between Elizabeth Keckley, a freed slave who was a modiste, and Mary Todd Lincoln. The story spans the years 1860 to 1901 and focuses on life in the White House during the Civil War and the aftermath of Lincoln's assassination. Events are seen through Elizabeth's eyes and only highlight that nothing was simple about American politics in the 19th century and slaves' relationships to their former masters. A bit slow in places, the story gives the reader a fascinating glimpse into the tragic life of Mary Todd Lincoln. This book is the November 2017 selection of the Willa Cather Book Club.

Apr 04, 2017

For lovers of historic fiction, be forewarned, MRS. LINCOLN’S DRESSMAKER is heavy on the history and much lighter on the fiction. Its subject matter (the friendship between Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, seamstress and former slave, and her patron, Mary Todd Lincoln) is intriguing and has such potential, unfortunately the story suffers in the execution. The telling by author Jennifer Chiaverini is frequently dry and flat with so much listing of Civil War events and leaders I felt I was reading a textbook. It seemed Ms. Chiaverini attempted to emulate the time period’s manner of speaking in her writing and word choice but often it came off as awkward. What I missed was a deep connection to the characters. I was already familiar with many of the details of the Lincoln White House years, but it was interesting to learn what happened to these two women following the President’s assassination, however this isn’t conveyed until the final third of the book and the saga of selling Mrs. Lincoln’s wardrobe goes on way too long. While not awful, MRS. LINCOLN’S DRESSMAKER is certainly underwhelming, and I can’t help but think it would’ve made for a more powerful and engaging book in the hands of a different author.

Jan 29, 2017

A unique perspective of a tumultuous time in history. I happened to read it over the weekend of Trump's inauguration and first week of his presidency, which added a new level of depth to my ponderings about the White House during the Civil War era. That said, the narrative was drawn out dragged a little slowly at times. I appreciate all that I learned from this book, but doubt I'll be recommending it.

Nov 10, 2016

This book was picked for my local book club so I had great hopes for it.
Unfortunately, it is poorly written and I could not develop any empathy for the characters. Got about half way through and decided it wasn't worth finishing.

Aug 02, 2016

Great book to get a perspective of the Civil War from an inside angle. Good read, but I found the ending a tad rushed and unsatisfying.

Jun 02, 2016

This was a good read. Parts were too "military" for me. But to tell the story perhaps they had to be in there.

Jan 02, 2016

Interesting historical biographical fiction. Dragged. Didn't complete reading it. Some of the people in my book club liked it though.

Oct 31, 2015

I would give this only a 3 star. Although the subject matter was wonderful, I ordered her actual memoirs and it was almost like this author plagiarized the original work of Elizabeth Keckley. Sorry, I was a bit disappointed in that. was tempted to read Mrs. Lincoln's Rival but found I could learn all I needed to know by Wikipedia.

dralac00 Aug 12, 2014

this book was wonderful~~~l highly recommend it!

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