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Cover image for Mrs. Lincoln's dressmaker : the unlikely friendship of Elizabeth Keckley and Mary Todd Lincoln
Mrs. Lincoln's dressmaker : the unlikely friendship of Elizabeth Keckley and Mary Todd Lincoln
Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : National Geographic, 2009.
Physical Description:
80 p. : ill. ; 26 cm.
An invitation to the White House -- The life of a slave girl -- Mary: Kentucky belle -- Chasing freedom -- We are elected! -- Starting over -- Facing new challenges -- Fighting to survive -- Elizabeth takes a stand.
Reading Level:
960 L Lexile


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book J 921 LINCOLN 1 1
Book J 920 JON 0 1

On Order



Few events can stir up a scandal more than an autobiography of a First Lady's confidante. In 1868, a controversial tell-all called Behind the Scenes introduced readers to Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley. Mrs. Keckley was a former slave who had been Mary Todd Lincoln's dressmaker and friend during the White House years, and in the aftermath of President Lincoln's assassination. The book exposed Mary's marriage and her erratic behavior, along with confidential opinions of many in high society. The airing of the Lincoln's "dirty laundry" meant humiliation for Mary and her family, and Elizabeth's reputation was destroyed. This outcome would have been unimaginable in 1867, when Mary declared in a letter, "I consider you my best living friend." How could such a bond have developed between a woman born into slavery and the First Lady of the United States? Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker answers this question by chronicling the extraordinary lives of these women.

Readers will be fascinated by a tale of friendship and fate. The pair seem like polar opposites: Lizzie is calm, dignified, with a steely inner strength; Mrs. Lincoln is fragile, unstable and flighty. Yet both share a burning resolve to get what they want. Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker examines the strains on such a unique friendship, as it's debated and parodied in newspapers. Lizzie must frequently leave her work to attend to the demands of Mrs. Lincoln. She offers constant support and companionship, particularly after the assassination of the President. In return, the dressmaker enjoys all the prestige and the popularity of those close to power.

Readers witness Elizabeth Keckley in her many roles: from fashion designer to abolitionist to caretaker. They follow her through the Civil War, the evils of slavery, and the many challenges faced alongside the First Lady. Handsome duotone illustrations include daguerreotypes, photos, paintings, and illustrations of the Lincoln's, Mrs. Keckley, and her masters. The book's elegant design emphasizes period fashion and the art of dressmaking.

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker tells the remarkable story of a forgotten figure whose influence ran deep and offers a revealing insight into an extraordinary relationship at the very heart of Abraham Lincoln's presidency.

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Author Notes

Lynda Jones is a freelance writer, reporter, and editor. She has written four nonfiction books for young readers. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Reviews 3

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-Opening with the initial meeting between the First Lady and the former slave who became her dressmaker, Jones then presents alternating chapters about the women's lives. Period quotes, and daguerreotypes, photos, paintings, and publications from the era appear throughout. Similar both in subject and title to Becky Rutberg's Mary Lincoln's Dressmaker (Walker, 1995), this book is sparer, but it references Rutberg's work, both as a source and with very similar language and quotes. The earlier title presents a broader story in a more engaging manner. This is a worthwhile subject for women's history, American history, and for providing insight into the Lincolns. However, Rutberg's book remains the better of the two.-Janet S. Thompson, Chicago Public Library (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Using period photographs and illustrations to expand the interest level, this account provides brief, strongly contrasting biographies of Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley. Lincoln, often maligned, grew up in a family of wealth and privilege. She arrived at adulthood with few coping skills to deal with the tragedies she facedthe loss of three of her beloved children in their youth and the assassination of Abraham, her primary source of emotional support. Keckley needed strength from early childhood, growing up as a slave and oftentimes physically abused. A talented seamstress, she not only supported her owner's family at one point with profits from her sewing, eventually she purchased her freedom. In Washington, she became Lincoln's seamstressand one of her few friends. Lincoln's life has been well documented; it was a stroke of genius to contrast it with the less well-known story of this talented former slave. Including many anecdotes that provide insight into the pair and featuring impeccable research, this volume is an excellent, fascinating addition to literature on the Civil War era. (author's note, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 10 up) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Although it's difficult to find a fresh angle for a book in this year of Lincoln, Jones manages smartly with the story of Elizabeth Keckley, born into slavery, and her friendship with Mary Todd Lincoln. The book opens with the first meetings between Mary, the new first lady, in need of a seamstress, and Elizabeth, the experienced dressmaker. Things get off to a rough start, but Elizabeth has a talent not just for sewing, but for soothing Mary. In alternating chapters, Jones then introduces both women and contrasts their very different lives. Readers may be familiar with the ups and downs of Lincoln's life, but details of Keckley's story the physical and sexual abuse she suffered, her efforts to buy herself out of slavery will give them new insights into the life of a slave, in this case, one who was educated and had a profession. Because Keckley wrote an autobiography, Jones is able to draw on her own words, which are used effectively. The format, however, is rather dull, especially compared with the current crop of Lincoln books. A short bibliography and source notes are appended.--Cooper, Ilene Copyright 2009 Booklist

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