Review Blog

Jun 12 2009

Mrs Lincoln's dressmaker by Lynda Jones

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National Geographic, 2009. ISBN 9781426303777
(Ages 10+) A picture book format but with a large amount of text, this book is aimed at upper primary and lower secondary students interested in the history of the USA. It is the story of the relationship between the president's wife, Mary Lincoln and her black dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley. Told chronologically, the tale covers the days of slavery, up to Lincoln's inauguration, the Civil War and his assassination and the years following his death.
The two women met when Elizabeth was developing a sound business in New York making dresses for women of fashion. A seamstress as a child, she had developed a strong business in the south before buying her freedom and moving north. She sought out Mrs Lincoln's business, eventually becoming firm friends with the woman. But when Mr Lincoln was killed, Elizabeth gave up her business to try and help the almost destitute Mary Lincoln, eventually losing all credibility herself and dying in poverty.
A fascinating look at the history of the USA in the middle of the nineteenth century, the book has many photos which readers will pore over. The book reveals the life of a slave in the southern states, alongside that of a woman brought up with slaves to command. Most interesting is the life of Mrs Lincoln after the assassination, and the downfall of Elizabeth Keckley, in trying to help her friend. Surprisingly, considering the publishers of the book, there are no maps.
Fran Knight

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