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, 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, Lizzy had bought her freedom in 1855 and come to Washington determined to make a life for herself. She was 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. Historian Jennifer Fleischner gives us a glimpse into the life and character of Elizabeth Keckly and the unusual friendship she formed with Mary Lincoln — its rise and its fall — at a time when the battle over slavery, freedom, and race were tearing the nation apart.
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