Sunday, January 15, 2012

Just Finished Reading

There are lot of good things to say about this book, but the part I enjoyed the most was the author's research of the early lives of these two women. Mrs. Lincoln's childhood in Lexington, Kentucky, into a home of privilege, set the stage for much of her adult life. The author contends that Mary Lincoln, although well educated and politically astute, never really matured into an adult. Her inability to deal with minor disappointments and her compulsive shopping would cause her problems with her husband and alienated would-be friends. Elizabeth Keckly on the other hand, grew up in slavery in Dinwiddie County, Virginia. She was the daughter of her white owner and a slave mother. During her lifetime Elizabeth did obtain a practical education and could read and write well, but it is interesting to think what someone with her drive could have accomplished if she had been afforded the opportunities that Mary had.

Elizabeth, or "Lizzy" as she was called by friends, lived a remarkable life. From Dinwiddie County she was moved to Hampden and Sydney College in Prince Edward County and then to Hillsboro, North Carolina by her owner and his family members that controlled her life. As a young woman in Hillsboro she became the mother of a son that was fathered by a white neighbor. Eventually she was moved to St. Louis where she purchased her and her son George's freedom. With her earnings as a noted and widely-referred seamstress she sent George to Wilberforce University in Ohio to be educated and she moved to Washington D.C. The light complexioned George passed for white and enlisted in a Missouri regiment when the Civil War broke out and was killed at the Battle of Wilson's Creek in August 1861.

After moving to D.C. Lizzie became seamstress for the politician's wives including Varina Davis, Jefferson Davis' wife. When the Davis family left Washington, and the Lincoln's arrived, Lizzie was introduced to Mary and Mary found her sewing skills excellent and fashionable and hired her for her personal seamstress. The two developed a close relationship over the next four years in the White House.

After Lincoln's assassination, Mary moved to Chicago and was in financial straits when she called on Lizzie to help her sell some of her old dresses and other possessions. The plan ended up in failure as the newspapers took the story and turned on Mary. Shortly after this Elizabeth wrote a book telling her story which offended the immature and touchy Mary and their relationship fell apart, never to be mended.

This book is indeed a "remarkable story" as the subtitle suggests and the author's writing style lends itself to being an very enjoyable and educational read.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.

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