The third book I read for the challenge was Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini. It is a work of historical fiction about the real person, Elizabeth Keckley, the mulatto modiste (dressmaker) of Washington, D.C., who became the dressmaker to Mrs. Lincoln while she was in the White House. Mrs. Keckley was born a slave in Virginia and eventually moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where, after being raped and becoming pregnant with her master’s child, she managed to save enough money to buy her freedom and open a dressmaking business. After a long while, she made her way eastward to Washington City and open her own dressmaking business and became a leading dressmaker to the wealthy white women of the city, among them Mrs. Jefferson Davis, who wanted her to go with the Davis family when they left the City when Mississippi seceded from the Union. She refused to go deep into the heart of slave territory.
She was devoted to her son George, who was a student at Wilberforce University in Ohio. She was able to come to the attention of Mrs. Lincoln and became the modiste (dressmaker and personal dresser) to the First Lady and as such was privy to much of what when on in the White House. She became a confidante of Mrs. Lincoln and a friend.
The book chronicles her time in the White House and also her charitable work, as well as her attempts to help the former First Lady after the assassination of her husband. It describes the terrible falling out they had when Mrs. Keckley wrote her memoirs and letters between her and Mrs. Lincoln were published in the book over Mrs. Keckley’s objections. She and Mrs. Lincoln never spoke after that. The book goes on to describe Mrs. Keckley’s amazing life after that, as a teacher at Wilberforce University, where her son had been a student, and her last days in relative obscurity in Washington, D.C.
This was a very entertaining book of historial fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed the story. It paints Mrs. Keckly in a very sympathetic light and shows Mrs. Lincoln as a very complex character. Mr. Lincoln comes across as a man weighed down by the cares of the nation at war, but with a sense of humor and devoted to his family. I would recommend this book if you like historical fiction.