MRS. LINCOLN AND MRS. KECKLY: The Remarkable Story of the Friendship Between a First Lady and a Former Slave

Jennifer Fleischner, Author . Broadway $26 (384p) ISBN 978-0-7679-0258-8

This double biography opens with an arresting image: two middle-aged women, one white, one black, are seated on a park bench in New York's Union Square in 1867. The white woman is Mary Todd Lincoln, widow of the president and desperately in need of money. The black woman is her dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckly, who is trying to help Mrs. Lincoln realize some profit out of the sale of the clothes that Mrs. Keckly made for her in happier times. Neither woman has been treated well by history. Mrs. Lincoln has gone down as a compulsive shopper whose own son tried to have her declared a lunatic; Mrs. Keckly was at one time thought to be a figment of the abolitionist imagination. Although Fleischner (Mastering Slavery), a former Mellon Faculty Fellow in Afro-American Studies at Harvard, is sympathetic to Mrs. Lincoln, the first lady's portrait here will not enhance her reputation significantly. But Fleischner's rehabilitation of Mrs. Keckly, portrayed as a strong-minded and talented woman who bought her freedom from slavery, lost her son on a Civil War battlefield and wrote a detailed biography of her former employer, is a revelation. Of particular interest is the glimpse provided into the vexed and ambiguous nature of the relations between the races both before and after abolition, a terrain the author negotiates with tact and sensitivity. (On sale Apr. 8)

Forecast:This portrait of an interracial friendship will be of great interest to readers of women's history and African-American history.

Reviewed on: 01/20/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-0-307-41915-6
Paperback - 396 pages - 978-0-7679-0259-5
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