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date: 03 April 2020

Keckley, Elizabeth locked

(c.1818–1907), seamstress, activist, and author.
  • Anne Bradford Warner

Extract

Elizabeth Keckley became a center of public controversy with the 1868 publication of Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House.

Born a slave in Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia, Keckley became such an accomplished seamstress that she was able to purchase her own freedom and her son's. After manumission she moved from St. Louis to establish herself in Washington, D. C., in 1860, becoming modiste first to the wife of Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis and finally to Mary Todd Lincoln during Abraham Lincoln's first term. Two-thirds of Behind the Scenes concerns Keckley's life with the Lincolns and the difficult period following the president's assassination, especially Mary Lincoln's desperate attempt to raise money through what became known as the “Old Clothes Scandal.” A misplaced trust in her editor, James Redpath and the sensationalist marketing of Carleton and Company culminated ...

A version of this article originally appeared in The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature.

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