The Book Mark

Books that make the grade.

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker

I guess I have a bit of a fascination regarding Mary Todd Lincoln. That is why I was drawn to Jennifer Chiaverini’s newest book, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker (B).   Having read books about her before I knew her life was extremely difficult and sad. I know Jennifer to be an author that does her homework thoroughly researching before she writes and so I expected to learn a lot about Mary Todd Lincoln.  I was not disappointed.

Elizabeth Keckley was Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker.  She began her life as a slave and worked to buy freedom for herself and her son.  Her sewing skills were impeccable and so after becoming free, she went to live in Washington becoming a much sought after seamstress by women such as Varina Davis, Mary Anna Custis Lee and others.  Eventually she began to sew for Mrs. Lincoln and quickly became more than her seamstress. She became her friend and confidante.

The book spans the beginning of President Lincoln’s term in office to just after his assassination.  Through Elizabeth’s narrative we get a glimpse of the Lincoln’s private lives.  Mrs. Lincoln suffered terribly from anxiety and after the death of two of her children she became even more nervous and high strung.  Often out spoken and speaking without a filter, she alienated herself from society.  She compensated for her losses by spending recklessly leaving herself in $70,000 debt at the time of the President’s death.

The timing of this book is excellent coming out just after the Lincoln movie. The interest in President Lincoln never wanes but it certainly has been rejuvenated since the movie.  Mrs. Lincoln is definitely a big part of the movie and therefore interest in her is renewed as well. Though the intention of the book was to meet Elizabeth Keckley who really was Mrs. Lincoln’s seamstress and staunch supporter of the abolition of slavery; I found my real interest to be in Mary. Therefore, I highly recommend Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker as the next opportunity for those seeking to know more about Mrs. Lincoln.

I have read many of Jenifer’s novels about quilting but far and away I found this to be the best of her books and I think you will all agree.




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