On My Bedside {Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker & Behind the Scenes}

Before our Kentucky Spring Break trip, I ordered three books about the area. I love picking a few fun reads before we travel somewhere new. The first was Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini. At the same time and regarding the same topic, I also chose Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House by Elizabeth Keckley.

Side note: Come to find out, while Mary Todd Lincoln did live in Lexington, Kentucky, it was only for a brief time.

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker

I read Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker first. It is historical fiction based on the autobiographical narrative of Elizabeth Keckley. I loved learning more about the private lives of President Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and their children through the eyes of Elizabeth, the First Lady’s most trusted confidante. The book is well written and I found myself completely immersed in the history, time period and people she writes about. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the women – both Elizabeth and Mary – behind the men. I highly recommend it for anyone that enjoys historical fiction or has even a casual interest in American history.

In a life that spanned nearly a century and witnessed some of the most momentous events in American history, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave. A gifted seamstress, she earned her freedom by the skill of her needle, and won the friendship of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln by her devotion. A sweeping historical novel, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker illuminates the extraordinary relationship the two women shared, beginning in the hallowed halls of the White House during the trials of the Civil War and enduring almost, but not quite, to the end of Mrs. Lincoln’s days.

Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House

Elizabeth wrote this autobiographical narrative in 1868 as a free woman and I found that extraordinarily impressive and marveled at that with the turn of ever page. She spent her entire childhood and early adult life as a slave – 30 years, in fact – buying freedom for herself and her son. She used her talents and wits to eventually become Mary Lincoln’s closest friend and a confidant of the Lincoln family. The book is not as easy to read as Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, but it is phenomenal to know that Elizabeth wrote this without a formal education. T

An autobiographical narrative, Behind the Scenes traces Elizabeth Keckley’s life from her enslavement in Virginia and North Carolina to her time as seamstress to Mary Todd Lincoln in the White House during Abraham Lincoln’s administration. It was quite controversial at the time of its release–an uncompromising work that transgressed Victorian boundaries between public and private life, and lines of race, gender, and society. Keckley’s first 30 years were spent as a slave, and the cruelties and injustices of her life are related clearly and succinctly. This enlightening memoir recounts how she was beaten and how she became a dressmaker to support her master and his family, how determined she was to purchase freedom for herself and her son, how her friends in St. Louis came to her aid, how she became Mary Todd Lincoln’s dressmaker and close friend, and her perspectives and experiences from her inside view of Lincoln’s White House. Keckley emerges as a calm and confident person who speaks of a very tumultuous period of American history.

I’ve been tearing through books lately and have SO many to share in the coming weeks!

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