Elizabeth Keckley (1818-1907) was a former slave turned successful seamstress who is most notably known as being Mary Todd Lincoln's personal modiste and confidante, and the author of her autobiography, Behind the Scenes Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. Mrs. Keckly utilized her intelligence, keen business savvy, and sewing and design skills to arrange and ultimately buy her freedom (and that of her son George as well), and later enjoyed regular business with the wives of the government elite as her base clientele. After several years in St. Louis, she moved to Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1860, where she had the country's most elite women of the time requesting her services. Through shrewd networking and hard work, she ended up making gowns and dresses for more notable wives such as Mrs. Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis, and Mrs. Mary Anne Randolph Custis Lee, wife of Robert E. Lee. Of all her clients, she had the closest and most long-standing relationship with Mary Todd Lincoln, devoting many of her days during Abraham Lincoln's administration to being available to her and the First Family in a myriad of ways.
Behind the Scenes: or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White Houseby Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley
Behind the Scenes, Or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House tells the story of Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave who became a successful Washington, D.C., dressmaker and confidante of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. This intimate bond allowed Keckley to witness the happy times as well as the tragic events that unfolded within the Lincoln White House.… See more details below
Behind the Scenes, Or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House tells the story of Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave who became a successful Washington, D.C., dressmaker and confidante of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. This intimate bond allowed Keckley to witness the happy times as well as the tragic events that unfolded within the Lincoln White House. Keckley's post-Civil War life story is part slave narrative, part gossip column, part Horatio Alger story. Though Elizabeth Keckley lived longer as a slave than as modiste to Mary Todd Lincoln, most of her engrossing autobiography is devoted to her White House years. The opening three chapters establish her as a woman to be reckoned with: the "school of slavery," as she calls her bondage, taught her to be fiercely self-reliant, persevering, and defiant, though more than one slavemaster tried to beat her into submission. Having worked as a reputable seamstress for three years while also performing her full-time duties as a slavewoman, she finally managed to buy freedom for both herself and her son. After a brief, unhappy marriage, she began her rapid social ascent from seamstress for the solid South's "best ladies" to Mary Todd Lincoln's best friend and confidante. Elizabeth Keckley's narrative is riveting as she recounts life in the White House during the Lincoln administration in meticulous detail. "Behind the Scenes, Or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House" is a remarkable firsthand narrative of both African-American and Civil War history, sure to engage equally the history buff, lovers of literature, and those who don't mind a bit of good, old-fashioned gossip.
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