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Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly: The Remarkable Story of the Friendship Between a First Lady and a Former Slave

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  359 Ratings  ·  77 Reviews
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, relation
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published April 8th 2003 by Broadway
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Community Reviews

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Jan 11, 2013 Carol rated it liked it
This double biography studies the parallel lives of Mary Lincoln and the freed slave woman her became her seamstress when Mary became the First Lady, or Mrs. President as the title was at that time. As other reviewers noted, the friendship between these women was brief, lasting only a few years after the President's murder. However, the book discusses not only their childhoods, but gives the history of their families.

I have read several biographies of Mary Lincoln as well as more than a few boo
Elizabeth (Alaska)
Jun 16, 2010 Elizabeth (Alaska) rated it liked it
I'm giving this 3 stars, but it just barely makes it.

Unfortunately, the sub-title of the book is very misleading. Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly don't even meet until page 200, on the eve of Lincoln's first inauguration. Also unfortunately, much of the remaining 125 pages involves Civil War politics. I did want to know more about the friendship of these women, but perhaps the intricacies of that friendship cannot truly be known and this was, after all, non-fiction.

Mary Lincoln was vain, arrogant a
Jul 24, 2012 Karola rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best historical novels I've ever read. Facts and details are supported by research and other period writings. You get the whole picture or one that's pretty close to it about Mary and her miserable childhood, a lot of what showed itself in her adult behavior. I read about people from Springfield whose names are well known here. And Lizzy - this book follows her from her humble beginnings to a triumph of freedom which she bought for herself. She helped Mary during her white hou ...more
I cannot wait to discuss this with my discussion group this week! An interesting read and very discussable.

Cons: Way too much historical detail (and I love history); the book is about 325 pages long -- only the last 100 pages actually deal with the friendship between these two women and finally, not real thrilled with all of the assumptions that the author makes . . . such and such might have done this or the family might have done that. Based on all of the research the author did, she should ha
Jan 17, 2012 Charlie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: rpt-book-club
The author is a colleague of mine - and when I started reading the book I wondered whether or not I should put it on this list. What if I didn't like it? Could I write honest comments? I need not have worried.

This is a very well-researched and well-written book, a dual biography of two women, one who grew up as a slave, the other with a privileged but emotionally challenging background. Their lives and eventual relationship makes fascinating reading and illuminates Lincoln, the civil war, slave
Feb 20, 2010 JGP rated it really liked it
The author makes some assumptions and the style can be dry in places, but overall this is a great book because of the insights it offers into the experiences of freed slaves as well as the personal lives of the Lincolns. I loved Mrs. Lincoln's response when friends wondered whether she ever regretted deciding to marry the gangly and struggling Lincoln rather than the (then) more successful Stephen Douglas: "What they fail to realize is that his heart is as large as his arms are long." (paraphras ...more
Jan 31, 2009 Diane rated it really liked it
I can't believe I FINALLY got through this book! I put it down twice, deciding not to read it b/c the author was horrible. She's a historian and she was dry. But when she finally got around to telling the story she was writing about, it got very interesting (the last 75 pages).
Dec 29, 2010 Lisa rated it liked it
I don't know if I just wasn't in the mood to read this, or if it got bogged down in the details and I got bored with it. I was so looking forward to reading this and it disapointed me.
Sep 28, 2015 Sally rated it really liked it
May 12, 2008 Anne rated it liked it
I really distrust a book that has an error on the third page. Plunged on, though, and found enough interesting stuff I hadn't known before to make it worth reading. Not that I trust it ..... ;)
Mar 29, 2012 Lewis rated it it was ok
Needed an editor.
Toby Sorge
Mar 19, 2017 Toby Sorge rated it liked it
There were some good moments but those didn't come until the last third of the book. The writer spends too much time on the background of people that she loses sight of the two women that are important. It's great to see a biography of a first lady that doesn't focus as much on the president.
Brian Bixler
Sep 30, 2013 Brian Bixler rated it liked it
I have been wanting to read this book for a long time and must thank my friend for sending it to me. Of the dozens of books I have read about Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd mostly remained a footnote, garnering perhaps a chapter or so, and certainly without enough insight to answer a question that has long troubled me: How were Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd able to stay together so many years given her extreme behavior?

Jennifer Fleischner is able to somewhate define their relationship while leaving
Feb 25, 2017 Micki rated it liked it
Very informative about the relationship between Mary and Lizzy but way too much TMI about other topics. Mostly scimmed that stuff.
Oct 29, 2014 Diane rated it really liked it
Although this may not be a "best seller" the story line between these two women I found most interesting - the parallel of their lives the and in the era of American history one of the biggest changes -- gives the reader two views in one. Mary Lincoln, from bloodlines of well established figures in American history and Elizabeth Keckly, a slave, of an established Southern family shares this line of historic change. Few readers will not find in history of women during the Civil War, or I think of ...more
Nov 14, 2013 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Much has been written about Mary Lincoln--not much of it favorable. That is the truth of the matter because she was brought up to live in leisure cared for by slaves. What I learned from this book is that she lost her mother when she was very young, her father remarried and his new wife favored her own children. Mary grew up lonely. She was an intelligent woman and an assertive one, a trait not admired in those days, and interested in politics--a man's purview. Her story is not unlike many at th ...more
Alethea White-Previs
Jan 17, 2016 Alethea White-Previs rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I expected this dual biography to focus more on the two titular women, and not so much on the Lincoln presidency; however, I suppose Lincoln's being president is what caused the two to meet and develop a relationship. Elizabeth Keckly was born a slave and spent most of her young life as one. She purchased her and her son's freedom when she was in her late thirties and then moved to Chicago, beginning a highly lucrative dressmaking business. She was introduced to Mary Todd Lincoln by a mutual acq ...more
May 11, 2015 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Elizabeth Keckly was the former slave who became Mary Todd Lincoln's seamstress and friend. Her story is in some ways more remarkable than Mary Lincoln's. Born a slave, she bought her freedom as well as that of her son, and set up business as a seamstress. She was gifted and had the cream of society as her clients (including Mrs. Jefferson Davis!). As Mary Lincoln's seamstress, she knew the Lincoln family intimately. As a former slave, she knew how to act properly, yet she maintained her dignity ...more
Betsy Korb
Aug 22, 2014 Betsy Korb rated it liked it
I did find out about Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly separately, but didn't find out much about their friendship until the end of the book which didn't begin until Mrs. Lincoln became First Lady. Mrs. Keckly was born in Dinwiddie County,VA on a plantation to a privileged house slave and most probably her master, but her mother's husband accepted "Lizzy" as his own. Lizzy Keckly grew up and bought her freedom in DC. There, she became the seamstress to the elite ladies of DC. Mrs. Lincoln, wanting to ...more
Apr 08, 2016 amaya rated it liked it
My review pretty well aligns with the others here: the actual friendship portion of the book was much shorter than the biographical components.

Having said that, it works rather well as an historical account. It's a long read, as the pages are very tightly packed with small text, but I felt it was worthwhile all the same. There was a lot to go through, but I felt it painted a pretty intimate portrait of the subjects within.

I am a bit surprised at how Robert Todd Lincoln was slightly vilified, as
Sep 05, 2015 Claire rated it it was amazing
I was led to this book from the source list in Mrs Lincoln's Dressmaker. Sometimes historical fiction makes me want to learn the history, and this time it was easier than usual.

First praise goes to the book cover design and title: the two women shown as equals, the title listing them as equals.

The early chapters alternate between the childhoods of each woman. Gradually their lives and stories are more intertwined. Interpretations are interesting, like frequent references to Mary Lincoln's child
Kimberly Ann
Jan 15, 2016 Kimberly Ann rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Mrs Lincoln & Mrs Keckley, by Jennifer Fleischner

★ ★ ★

Although I did not like this book, I am giving it 3 stars because I'm sure that history buffs of the Civil War era will enjoy this book.

The book began with a brief bit about the friendship in the prologue...but then went into the detailed background of Todd & somewhat of Mrs Keckley, but in a manner that jumped around. For myself, this was too detailed......I just don't care about all the minute facts about: Free Slaves of the era, Ma
Chi Dubinski
May 31, 2015 Chi Dubinski rated it it was amazing
Elizabeth Keckly was born into slavery and bought her freedom and that of her son for $1200. A talented seamstress, she opened a shop in St. Louis, and soon counted among her customers the important and influential women of society. When Abraham Lincoln was elected to the presidency, Mary Todd Lincoln engaged Mrs. Keckly to sew new gowns for her important Washington functions.
When the President was assassinated, it was Lizzy Keckly who was constantly by Mary Lincoln’s side. And when the Presiden
Jul 09, 2013 Nada rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I really liked the book although at times I did find myself losing interest. You not only learn about the relationship between Lincoln & Keckly but also between Mary and her husband. That especially fascinated me because I was unaware of just how much Mary was despised while her husband loved. It seems that there was very much to be appalled by. After finishing reading I'm still fascinated by the relationship between Mary and Abraham Lincoln. On the other hand the relationship between Mary & ...more
Laura Stahl
Sep 27, 2012 Laura Stahl rated it really liked it
I read this about 3 years ago. I loved it! It gives us the lives of these two women before they met, giving us insight into what made these women who they were, the dichotomy of their social standing (yet each had an element of high social standing with their peers, despite the things that others looked down on them for), and, because of race and society, how their "friendship" was actually more a closet one than an open/public one. I only rated this 4-stars because it took so long to get to the ...more
Karen Yelton-Curtis
Jul 10, 2016 Karen Yelton-Curtis rated it it was amazing
Quite the fascinating book! It's another example of how often-overlooked details in history become compelling stories. This one caught my eye in the gift shop at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. Fleischner constructs parallel narratives of the lives of Lincoln and Keckly, and as history brings the two women together the author describes the convergence but never strays from showing how each fares on her own. Fleischner is adept at weaving in key details of historical developments while keeping ...more
Sep 11, 2012 Lara rated it it was amazing
This book was an enlightening look at Mrs. Lincoln through the evolutionary and changing friendship she had with her dressmaker, the former slave Lizzy Keckly. It also was a more intimate look at the relationships and inner workings between Abraham Lincoln and his wife. I really enjoyed learning more about these people, particularly through the eyes of other who knew them (especially in the special circumstances of this friendship.) It is well worth a read if you are interested in the Lincolns, ...more
Jul 09, 2013 Anna rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I am very interested in the Lincolns' story. This was a great book detailing the lives of both Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckl(e)y. It was a slow start, since it does begin with both of their childhoods. I honestly almost dropped it, but managed the last fifty pages in one session since that took in the assassination and aftermath. Mary Lincoln's story is super tragic, and Elizabeth Keckly really isn't talked about that much so it was great to learn more.
Feb 11, 2013 Rita rated it it was amazing
Well written --very informative. At the end of this book the author implies that due to her research she does not believe that Elizabeth Keckley wrote her book Behind the Scenes. She states that she had a collaborator, and she thinks Mrs. Keckley, due to her limited education, could not have written her own book. Other than that, there was very little new information that Fleischner discussed that was not in Behind the Scenes, which--by the way--was one of Fleischner's sources.
Jan 05, 2016 Mya rated it liked it
Shelves: read-for-school
Perhaps I just was a poor US History student but there seemed to be some important historical points that were assumed as knowledge, which got a bit confusing. That being said, the book did not get trapped in political discussions or accounts of historical events. The text really helped me to understand the life and mentality of a woman who worked to free herself, and covered many angles of culture. Enjoyable, but I don't know if I would have stuck with the book if it hadn't been an assignment.
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