Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Lynda Jones

Mrs. Lincoln's DressmakerGenerally, my mental image of Abraham Lincoln includes his beard and maybe his top hat. When I picture Lincoln, I don’t usually see coattails. However, right now, with all things Lincoln spilling off the new book shelves, Lincoln’s coattails are working overtime. It seems that anyone who ever crossed his path is being included in the 200th anniversary of his birth. It should come as no surprise then, that his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln is sharing his spotlight. Actually, it’s surprising that more hasn’t been written about Mary in the past. She’s one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” characters. Don’t get me wrong, Lincoln was an amazingly multi-faceted character but, Mary Todd, now there’s a story.

Luckily, Lynda Jones was up to the task of making some of Mary Todd Lincoln’s “quirkiness” accessible to younger readers with Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker. Yet this is not only Mary’s story. The primary character is seamstress Elizabeth Keckley and her relationship with Mary Todd Lincoln woven in—a sort of warp and weft, to use textile terminology. The two halves make a whole, strong and artfully pleasing piece of cloth.

Elizabeth Keckley’s story is compelling. She was born a slave yet determination, bravery, intelligence and her innate ability with a needle eventually helped her to buy freedom for herself and her son. She had “spunk.” With incredibly hard work, skill and well-connected patrons, she was able to make her way as a free woman to Washington DC and set herself up as a seamstress of elegant dresses at the exact moment in time that Mary Todd Lincoln was attempting to take the reins of the capitol’s fashion scene. The rest, as they say, is history. Their stories began with Mary as the demanding yet needy patron and ended with Elizabeth as Mary’s only sympathetic friend and her caretaker. For her efforts, Elizabeth was shunned, ridiculed, left penniless and forced to start over as a teacher. Nevertheless, without Mary Todd Lincoln, we would most likely never have known about Elizabeth Keckley. In the end, they needed each other.

That may seem like a lot of ground to cover but, Jones manages it in only 80 pages.
It seems to me, Jones must be a seamstress herself. She has taken the lives of these two women from disparate backgrounds and of differing temperament s and has bound them together as fine and strong as any seam that Elizabeth Keckley might have sewn. The well placed illustrations and photographs embellish the text. Even the beginning of each chapter subtly features a fabric background that reflects Elizabeth’s personal growth from slave to successful business woman.

The size, page count and illustrations will draw readers to this book but it is the economic , well written text and fascinating story of these two remarkable women that will make it a memorable read.

Posted by: Eileen

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