Thursday, March 14, 2013

Book Review: Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker



Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker
by Jennifer Chiaverini
New York: Dutton, 2013

I’ve been a fan of Jennifer Chiaverini’s Elm Creek Quilts series for years. Her latest novel, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, is her first stand-alone historical novel and is an incredible achievement. Chiaverini tells the story of Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, a woman who was born a slave but who ultimately bought her freedom and moved to Washington D.C., where she established herself as a dressmaker in the years immediately prior to the Civil War. She counted among her clients such notables as the wives of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. 

It was Mary Todd Lincoln, however, who would become her most famous customer and a dear friend. As modiste to the First Lady, Keckley was invited into the inner circle of White House life during the Lincoln years and this novel tells of her perspective of President and Mrs. Lincoln, their children, and the Civil War. While this takes up the largest part of the novel, the story continues to share what happened after President Lincoln’s assassination and the difficult years that Mrs. Lincoln faced. 

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker is a history buff’s delight. While it is a novel, it was very well researched and is largely based on historical events. It is a wonderful read for anyone interested in women’s history, African-American history, or the Civil War era. It would also make a great educational experience for high school or college students studying this time period. 

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