From School Library Journal
Grade 8 Up?If you've never heard of Elizabeth Keckley, you can probably be forgiven. She's a fairly shadowy footnote in American history, remembered mainly as a friend of one of the most controversial women in our country's history, Mary Todd Lincoln. However, Keckley's life deserves a second look. Born a slave in 1818, she endured 37 years of abuse, including forced sexual relations (and a resulting pregnancy) before buying freedom for herself and her son. Once free, she used her sewing skills to become one of Washington D.C.'s most successful dressmakers. Then she closed her dress shop to care for the first lady after her husband's assassination, and she lost many valuable customers. A misguided attempt to help save Mrs. Lincoln's reputation with a book entitled Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House ended the friendship. The book was seen as a cruel betrayal, and Keckley eventually died in a home for destitute women and children in 1907. Rutberg's account is interesting, but not as gripping as Keckley's own book, which gives an often terrifying glimpse into the life of a slave. Still, libraries with a high demand for multicultural material or women's history should find this a useful, readable purchase. Black-and-white reproductions appear throughout.?Melissa Hudak, North Suburban District Library, Roscoe, IL
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Gr. 6^-10. Born a slave in 1818, Elizabeth Keckley received her first whipping at age four. By age 37, she had such a fine reputation with her dressmaking clients that they loaned her the money to buy her freedom. In 1861, she was dressmaker to Mary Todd Lincoln. She soon became an indispensable part of the life of the president's wife, remaining loyal despite Mrs. Lincoln erratic behavior. Their friendship was permanently damaged, however, when Keckley published an autobiography in which she tried to defend her friend but instead angered her. Rutberg masterfully pairs the material from Keckley's autobiography with background information on the country's history through the 1800s, creating a powerful picture of the life of a slave before and after freedom and casting light on the always interesting Mary Lincoln. Photographs, drawings, a bibliography, and a list of further readings round out the text. Susan Dove Lempke