This novel, based on fact, is written by Jennifer Chiaverini. It tells the story of Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, a talented needlewoman and a former slave who worked to earn freedom for herself and her son. She settled in pre-Civil War Washington D.C. where she successfully established her own business as modiste, or dressmaker, to the fashionable wives of politicians.
But the political atmosphere was changing in Washington D.C. Abraham Lincoln was elected as president and tensions grew between the northern and southern states. Elizabeth’s success increased when she was introduced to Mary Lincoln, the president’s wife, and became Mrs. Lincoln’s only dressmaker. Through the years of the Lincoln presidency, Elizabeth had a front row seat to their domestic life and historic events. She became the confidante of Mary Lincoln and was able to deal with her erratic moods which most of Washington D.C. society criticized.
After Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, Elizabeth continued to emotionally support Mary while others turned away from her. However, Elizabeth’s decision to write her autobiography featuring her years of slavery, establishment of her dressmaking business, and relationship with Mary came back to bite her when the publisher modified some of the text to present a salacious view of Mary. Mary broke off all contact with Elizabeth and never reconciled with her.
Even though the ending of the friendship upset Elizabeth, she continued with her life’s work of promoting equality for the newly freed slaves.