Elizabeth Keckley (Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery)

Randall M. Miller and John David Smith eds., Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery (New York:  Greenwood Press, 1988), s.v. “Keckley, Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth Keckley was born a slave at Dinwiddie Court House in Virginia around 1818. Her earliest recollections of slave life come at age four, when she began taking care of her owner’s child. At about age eighteen Keckley was sold to a North Carolinian, who fathered her son. Later, when her master moved to Saint Louis, Missouri, her skills as a seamstress provided much needed income for the entire household. After a disastrous marriage…Elizabeth decided to use her own considerable talents to provide a better life for herself and her son. Borrowing money from customers, in 1855 she purchased her and her son’s freedom. She also learned to read and write. Finally settling in Washington, D.C., she established a flourishing dressmaking business with such prominent customers as Mrs. Jefferson Davis. Eventually Keckley became dressmaker and confidante to Mary Todd Lincoln, thereby gaining an intimate view of the Lincoln household. She made a personal contribution to the war effort, in 1862, when she helped establish, and became first president of, the Contraband Relief Association.

Believing Mrs. Lincoln to be unfairly misunderstood, in 1868 Keckley published Behind the Scenes; or Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House, probably with the help of James Redpath. Keckley hoped the book would provide much needed funds for Mrs. Lincoln….
    How to Cite This Page: "Elizabeth Keckley (Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/17552.