Elizabeth Keckley was a former slave in Washington D.C. who became close friends with First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. She befriended the wives of prominent women in D.C. to build her business as a seamstress. Keckley worked in the White House for four years and wrote a memoir called Behind the Scenes: or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. Many people believed that she had broken the code of privacy by including intimate thoughts about the First Family in her novel.
Keckley was born in Dinwiddie, Virginia in 1818. She was of mixed-race and the identity of her father was finally revealed on her mother’s deathbed to be former slave master, Armistead Burwell. Keckely’s mother was a house slave, and her daughter was literate, though it was illegal in Virginia. As a young child she was forced to begin work at four years old. Her position in the house was nursemaid to one of the Burwell’s infants. Her age was not given consideration for any mistakes in her position; she was beat severely for accidentally tipping over the cradle of baby Elizabeth Margaret Burwell.
When she was a young teenager, Keckley was sent to live with the Burwell’s oldest son and his wife. The lady of the home resented Elizabeth’s presence and sent her to a neighbor to be ‘broken’ from her determined spirit to survive. Though the male neighbor tried twice to whip Keckley into submission, he failed and on the third attempt, asked for Keckley’s apology and vowed to never beat her again.
After working for Alexander Kirkland, who forced himself on Keckley and giving her a son named George, Elizabeth returned to the Burwell family and then moved she and her mother to St. Louis. After pleading for her freedom, she was finally given the $1,200 necessary to buy it from surrounding community friends. By the mid-1860’s she was able to get to Washington D.C. and work as a seamstress. She began to gain prominent clientele like Mrs. Robert E. Lee, who connected her with other socialites.
It was through the acceptance of a rush order, that Keckley was introduced to Mary Todd Lincoln. She was chosen from a pool of women interested in the job of modiste.
Keckley became the personal clothing designer of Mary Todd Lincoln. Her designs are seen in two portraits taken by the first lady. While working in the White House, Keckley became a Union activist, founding the Contraband Relief Association in August 1862. The name changed to the Ladies' Freedmen and Soldier's Relief Association two years later. She helped thousands of free blacks through her organization.
Keckley became a close friend of Mary Todd Lincoln, acquiring some of the President’s personal items after his assassination. She held onto Abraham Lincoln’s blood splattered clothing after his death.
When Keckley released Behind the Scenes, she was ridiculed by the white community as breaking a code of tact among them. Although her intention was to help a tattered image of Mary Todd Lincoln who had had emotional and financial trouble after he husband’s death, it backfired. It was also said that Robert Lincoln, the son of Mary and Abraham, interfered with the book’s sales. Her relationship with Mary Lincoln was broken permanently.
By 1892, Keckley worked in a faculty position at Wilberforce University as head of the Department of Sewing and Domestic Science Arts. She would continue her work as a seamstress. She later died at the destitute home in 1890 and was said to be depressed from the loss of her friendship with Mary Lincoln.
Elizabeth Keckley’s handiwork is held at the Smithsonian American History Museum. A quilt she made from fabric used on the dresses of Mary Lincoln is on display at Kent State Museum.
Gloria Reuben portrays Keckley’s life in the current film “Lincoln,” in theaters now.
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This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (11/26-12/2)
30 photos Launch gallery
1. Little Legend and Puddy 😍😍😍😍
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2. "You on point Phife?" "all the time,Tip". 💥 #bannedfromnormal
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3. Vegan! The Impossible burger at Crossroads
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4. Lawrence #BeforeandAfterEpisodes 1-4: 184lbs 13% body fatEpisode 8: 196lbs 8% body fat S/O @coachdaveboxing with the works outs and @kildareriordan with the nutrition
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5. Jus haaaanngin out
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6. Meanwhile back at home in Atlanta GA someone mad they not on the 🛳. 😳
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7. No limits... Photo cred: Chris Bridges @ludacris
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8. new new
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9. Apparently my 260lbs is too much for the actual vines in the Hawaiian jungles to hold me without breaking and me falling hundreds of feet. So for safety purposes, I'm forced to swing thru #Jumanjj on wires strong enough to hold 12 adult buffaloes and 1 adult Rock. #OnSet #Jumanji #IronicallyIEatBuffaloDailyForLunch #MoreManThanNatureKnowsWhatToDoWith
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10. hey ma! 🎎#wcw 💙
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11. Surprise visit to our factories!!! #GoodAmerican #USA
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13. Peachy Keen 🔥✨⚡️
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14. If this don't look thankful I don't know what does. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. #UltraBlessed #24kMagic #SweetPotatoFly
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15. Late nights @nbcmarlon with the writers... we in here!!!
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16. There goes my baaaaaaaaabbbbyyyyy #QueenKingMagic!!! We're up to something! Ira BIG!!! Stay out our buisness -
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17. You want to win every game you play but when you come home to these faces... who cares. #ILoveYouGirls best part of my day, everyday!
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18. Steady,steady..... full size jenga.. "I got this one "???? Or do I ?
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19. Cornrows kind of day 😉@dontaysavoy2 you convinced me and I love. ❤️️
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20. #BrotherlyLove #tbt
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22. #basel #TeamLOVE @kingcombs
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23. Just introduced a special screening of @directher 's groundbreaking (must see) documentary @13thfilm with my brother @themichaelealy | @unitedblackout #blackoutblackfriday
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24. Me & Vanessa Williams giving #DuckLips #Pose on the set of #DaytimeDivas @vh1 - Coming Soon to a tv near you. Lol. - My make up done by @makeupsurgeon
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25. This picture just makes me wanna praise the Lord, you hear me!!!!!! Yes Lord brotha #TEDDYCAMPBELL What a #man !!! You are everything right on this picture husband ......... #gorgeous #stylish #classy #strong #masculine #king #sexy #debonair #gentlemenstyle And that #bible in your hand just seals the deal for me (probably cause i know that, that is what helped you become just as amazing as you look😘). While my heart and mind experiences the goodness of God at #church on Sundays, my eyes experiences the goodness of Teddy😍. Amen somebody🙌🏽. "Bless the Lord oh my soul and all that is within me bless his holy name" #myman #myhusband #goodman #blackman #dapperman #godlyman #goodfather #mybestfriend
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26. Yesterday was my mama's 53rd birthday!!!!! Got to celebrate with her all day. If this is what I have to look forward to I can't wait. Looking like a soft bucket a cocoa butter. Yaaaaaaaaaas! 😍😍😍 love you mommy!
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27. "Shout out to @PureAtlanta for getting the family right"....I'm loving this jogger. 😍😍
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28. This pic warms my heart ❤️ #myLogiebeans and aunt aunt umba @itowandabraxton 😘
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29. You will always be my baby😜. #HappyBirthdayReginae #mybaby18
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30. GC "Gods Child" Red on Red SweatSuit available now at www.MonicaApparel.com ... Take Your Crown wherever you go!! I'm pictured in a Medium... Go to the site now for other options ... cc: @trukernell
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