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Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly

The Remarkable Story of the Friendship Between a First Lady and a Former Slave

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Paperback published by Broadway Books (Crown Publishing Group)

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About This Book
A vibrant social history set against the backdrop of the Antebellum south and the Civil War that recreates the lives and friendship of two exceptional women: First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and her mulatto dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckly.

“I consider you my best living friend,” Mary Lincoln wrote to Elizabeth Keckly in 1867, and indeed theirs was a close, if tumultuous, relationship. Born into slavery, mulatto Elizabeth Keckly was Mary Lincoln’s dressmaker, confidante, and mainstay during the difficult years that the Lincolns occupied the White House and the early years of Mary’s widowhood. But she was a fascinating woman in her own right, independent and already well-established as the dressmaker to the Washington elite when she was first hired by Mary Lincoln upon her arrival in the nation’s capital. Lizzy had bought her freedom in 1855 and come to Washington determined to make a life for herself as a free black, and she soon had Washington correspondents reporting that “stately carriages stand before her door, whose haughty owners sit before Lizzy docile as lambs while she tells them what to wear.” Mary Lincoln had hired Lizzy in part because she was considered a “high society” seamstress and Mary, an outsider in Washington’s social circles, was desperate for social cachet. With her husband struggling to keep the nation together, Mary turned increasingly to her seamstress for companionship, support, and advice—and over the course of those trying years, Lizzy Keckly became her confidante and closest friend.

With Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly, pioneering historian Jennifer Fleischner allows us to glimpse the intimate dynamics of this unusual friendship for the first time, and traces the pivotal events that enabled these two women—one born to be a mistress, the other to be a slave—to forge such an unlikely bond at a time when relations between blacks and whites were tearing the nation apart. Beginning with their respective childhoods in the slaveholding states of Virginia and Kentucky, their story takes us through the years of tragic Civil War, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the early Reconstruction period. An author in her own right, Keckly wrote one of the most detailed biographies of Mary Lincoln ever published, and though it led to a bitter feud between the friends, it is one of the many rich resources that have enhanced Fleischner’s trove of original findings.

A remarkable, riveting work of scholarship that reveals the legacy of slavery and sheds new light on the Lincoln White House, Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly brings to life a mesmerizing, intimate aspect of Civil War history, and underscores the inseparability of black and white in our nation’s heritage.


From the Hardcover edition.
Show less
A vibrant social history set against the backdrop of the Antebellum south and the Civil War that recreates the lives and friendship of two exceptional women: First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and her mulatto dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckly.

“I consider you my best living friend,” Mary Lincoln wrote to Elizabeth Keckly in 1867, and indeed theirs was a close, if tumultuous, relationship. Born into slavery, mulatto Elizabeth Keckly was Mary Lincoln’s dressmaker, confidante, and mainstay during the difficult years that the Lincolns occupied the White House and the early years of Mary’s widowhood. But she was a fascinating woman in her own right, independent and already well-established as the dressmaker to the Washington elite when she was first hired by Mary Lincoln upon her arrival in the nation’s capital. Lizzy had bought her freedom in 1855 and come to Washington determined to make a life for herself as a free black, and she soon had Washington correspondents reporting that “stately carriages stand before her door, whose haughty owners sit before Lizzy docile as lambs while she tells them what to wear.” Mary Lincoln had hired Lizzy in part because she was considered a “high society” seamstress and Mary, an outsider in Washington’s social circles, was desperate for social cachet. With her husband struggling to keep the nation together, Mary turned increasingly to her seamstress for companionship, support, and advice—and over the course of those trying years, Lizzy Keckly became her confidante and closest friend.

With Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly, pioneering historian Jennifer Fleischner allows us to glimpse the intimate dynamics of this unusual friendship for the first time, and traces the pivotal events that enabled these two women—one born to be a mistress, the other to be a slave—to forge such an unlikely bond at a time when relations between blacks and whites were tearing the nation apart. Beginning with their respective childhoods in the slaveholding states of Virginia and Kentucky, their story takes us through the years of tragic Civil War, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the early Reconstruction period. An author in her own right, Keckly wrote one of the most detailed biographies of Mary Lincoln ever published, and though it led to a bitter feud between the friends, it is one of the many rich resources that have enhanced Fleischner’s trove of original findings.

A remarkable, riveting work of scholarship that reveals the legacy of slavery and sheds new light on the Lincoln White House, Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly brings to life a mesmerizing, intimate aspect of Civil War history, and underscores the inseparability of black and white in our nation’s heritage.


From the Hardcover edition.
Product Details
Paperback (400 pages)
Published: February 10, 2004
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Imprint: Broadway Books
ISBN: 9780767902595
Other books byJennifer Fleischner
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    Mastering Slavery
    Memory, Family, and Identity in Women's Slave...
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    I Was Born A Slave

    I Was Born A Slave
    The Story of Harriet Jacobs
    The turbulent life & times of Harriet Jacobs, who was born into slavery & lived for many years as a fugitive before winning her freedom & becoming an abolitionist, powerfully unfolds in this compelling historical narrative, featuring excerpts from Jacob's classic autobiography. Author's note, bibliography.

    Nobody's Boy

    Nobody's Boy
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    Feminist Nightmares

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    Women at Odds - Feminism and the Problems of...
    Though all women are women, no woman is only a woman, wrote Elizabeth Spelman inThe Inessential Woman. Gone are the days when feminism translated simply into the advocacy of equality for women. Women's interests are not always aligned; race, class, and sexuality complicate the equation. In recent years, feminist ideologies have become increasingly diverse. Today, one feminist's most ardent political opponent may well be another feminist. As feminism grows increasingly diverse, the time has come to ask a painful and frequently avoided question: what does it mean for women to oppress women? This pathbreaking, provocative anthology addresses this troublesome dilemma from various feminist perspectives, offering an interdisciplinary collection of writings that widens our understanding of oppression to take into account women who are at odds. The book examines the social, political, and psychological ramifications of this phenomenon, as evidenced in a range of texts, from women's antislavery writing to women's anti-abortion writing, from mother-daughter incest stories to maternal surrogacy narratives, from the Bible to the popular romance nove, from Jane Austen to Alice Walker. The value of the volume is perhaps best summed up by an early response to the idea—This is a book that should never be written; feminists should concentrate on how men oppress women. Ironically, it is precisely because the subject triggers such responses, the authors argue, that a volume such asFeminist Nightmareshas become a necessity.

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