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Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, By Jennifer Chiaverini

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker: A Novel

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, by Jennifer Chiaverini, is a fictional story that follows the real life of Elizabeth Keckley. Born into slavery, Elizabeth remains a slave for thirty-seven years. The story begins just before the Civil War, but the book explains how her father and master’s legitimate family allows her to buy her freedom before the war.

In a time when it was illegal for slaves to learn, Keckley is a self-taught woman and a gifted seamstress. Through years of toil and work, she manages to buy her freedom and gain notoriety for her excellent craftsmanship. In Washington DC, she builds her business, and through word-of-mouth gains notoriety. After crafting dresses for the popular Mrs. Davis, Keckley is referred to another friend of Mrs. Davis’s. This woman promises an introduction to Mary Todd Lincoln, just as the presidential couple is settling into the shifting tides of Whitehouse politics.

By the author’s account, Elizabeth sewed every gown for the first lady during Lincoln’s time in office. She also dressed Mrs. Lincoln for important occasions. More than a modiste, she was a companion to the first lady, during her time at The Whitehouse. The book describes Keckley’s time with Mrs. Lincoln as a constant companion. During the years they resided at The Whitehouse and the more turbulent years after Mrs. Lincoln moved to Chicago, Elizabeth is called on for all important family crisis. Keckley plays a valuable role in the support of Mrs. Lincoln during her many years of mourning, before and after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

Most noted is the theme of the character’s goodwill, understanding, honor and loyalty. Even under the most trying of circumstances, Elizabeth tries to help her friend, Mrs. Lincoln, to gain favor and empathy with the US population. The pentacle of the story is the release of Elizabeth’s autobiography that she writes to earn money, inspire other black Americans, and to help Mrs. Lincoln, but through the meandering ways of the publishing world, her story is lost.

I loved the historical points of Elizabeth’s and The Lincoln’s time together. Set during the crucial reconstruction and the abolishment of slavery, Chiaverini paints a multi-faceted picture of the way our society viewed things before and after the war. This book will inspire people to look at the history of our great nation and the foundation of the society that built it. A reminder of how things were, how they changed, and the sacrifices needed to succeed. Truth in history is not always a perfect picture, but the only ticket to understanding and building a better future. I truly enjoyed, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, a novel that will pique the reader’s curiosity about the past and a real refresher for anyone who has forgotten.

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