As some of you may recall, last summer I went with my girls and my mom to Springfield, Illinois, to Abe Lincoln's home and museum. I have always been interested in Lincoln, ever since first grade when I began reading about him and writing plays for classmates to perform. (I apologize to any audience who had to sit through a play I wrote and directed as a first grader).
Getting to learn more about him this summer just rekindled some of that interest, and I was happy to read Jennifer Chiaverini's book, Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker. Elizabeth Keckley is a name I have heard in conjunction with Mary Todd Lincoln, but didn't know anything more than that about her. Chiaverini brings Keckley to life in her book, writing in her perspective.
Keckley was a former slave, a woman who earned her way by sewing for Washington, D.C.'s elite. Before Abe Lincoln was elected president, she sewed for Varina Davis, the wife of Jefferson Davis until they left for the South where Davis became the President of the Confederacy.
When Lincoln moves into the White House, Keckley begins to sew for Mary Todd Lincoln and develops a friendship with her. From Keckley's story we are able to imagine the Lincoln's marriage and relationship, their parenting, Mary's excessive spending, and the way in which she was viewed by the public. Lizzie shares about her past as well: having a son, running her own sewing business which allows her a measure of freedom, and her earlier life in the South.
While I know this is fictionalized, I am curious to know how much about Keckley is based on fact, and how much Chiaverini made up in her writing. Without a doubt, Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker has sparked more curiosity about the Lincolns and their lives.
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