Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker- The Unlikely Friendship of Elizabeth Keckley & Mary Todd Lincoln
©2009 Lynda Jones
Published by National Geographic
Born a slave, Elizabeth Keckley experienced many challenging moments throughout her early life. Later in life, she became an amazing seamstress- so good that she ends up making dresses for the first lady! After becoming Mrs. Lincoln’s head seamstress, the two form a strong friendship, and go through many difficult moments together.
Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).
Suggested Delivery: Small Group- 5th Grade
It is said that some of Elizabeth Keckley’s designs forever influenced fashion. Click Here to visit the Smithsonian’s website which contains more information on Elizabeth Keckley and shows images of some of her handcrafted dresses. This provides students with more information on the main character of the text.
The author of this text feels as though she has uncovered an important part of history, as the story of Elizabeth Keckley seemed to be untold prior to Lynda Jones’ work. Click Here to read more about Lynda Jones and her journey writing this story. This provides students with the opportunity to view how this historical information was discovered.
- A vocabulary activity that would be great for students in 5th grade can be found Here. For this activity, the teacher can either assign target words, or let students choose new vocabulary words as they read. The following words serve as good options of words for the teacher to assign:
- Confide: To have full trust
- Elite: Representing the best choice
- Agitate: To disturb or excite emotionally
- Jurisdiction: The power or authority to make justice-related decisions
- Deceive: To mislead
- Compel: To use force
- Before Reading: A classroom comprehension activity to prepare students before reading the book would be to have students explore the website listed under resources which explores Lynda Jones’ journey writing this story. Students can then write a few goals on what they hope to learn more about through reading the story. This serves as a great pre-reading activity to prepare and excite students for what is to be learned through the unit.
- During Reading: Following the first link under resources, a great activity students can do during the reading process of this story would be to further explore Elizabeth Beckley’s fashion works. Being able to visualize some of her dresses would help students not only understand more about the time period of the book, however, it would also allow students to develop a thorough understanding of how elite her dresses were. This thorough understanding will prepare students as they work on reading the second half of the book.
- After Reading: After reading the story, students have seen the timeline of each character’s life and watched how the characters grew and changed throughout the years. Having students fill out a character chart to identify similarities and differences in history/ characteristics between Mary and Elizabeth is a great way for students to express their comprehension of the story.
- Writing Activity
- After reading the story, students understand the timeline of how Elizabeth and Mary’s friendship developed and ended. After completing the pre-reading activity, students also understand that much of the history the author did to write this book as done by reading letters that Mrs. Lincoln and Elizabeth had written to each other. Giving students the opportunity to join the penpalship between Mary and Elizabeth by asking them to write a letter as one character to the other would be a great writing activity to conclude the unit.