In March 1861, Mrs. Lincoln chose Keckley from among a number of applicants to be her personal modiste, responsible not only for creating the First Ladys gowns, but also for dressing Mrs. Lincoln in the beautiful attire Keckley had fashioned. The relationship between the two women quickly evolved, as Keckley was drawn into the intimate life of the Lincoln family, supporting Mary Todd Lincoln in the loss of first her son, and then her husband to the assassination that stunned the nation and the world.
Keckley saved scraps from the dozens of gowns she made for Mrs. Lincoln, eventually piecing together a tribute known as the Mary Todd Lincoln Quilt. She also saved memories, which she fashioned into a book, Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. Upon its publication, Keckleys memoir created a scandal that compelled Mary Todd Lincoln to sever all ties with her, but in the decades since, Keckleys story has languished in the archives. In this impeccably researched, engrossing novel, Chiaverini brings history to life in rich, moving style.