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Leyla Keough

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born in Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia, to Agnes, a slave of the Burgwell family, and George Pleasant, who was owned by a man named Hobbs. When Elizabeth was in her teens, the Burgwells sold her to a slaveowner in North Carolina by whom she was raped and had one child, George. Shortly thereafter, a Burgwell daughter, Anne Burgwell Garland, bought Elizabeth and her son. They were taken to St. Louis, where Elizabeth married James Keckley. She later found he had deceived her by claiming to be a free man, and the couple separated.

To support her owner's household, Keckley worked as a seamstress. She acquired many loyal customers, one of whom loaned Keckley $1,200 to buy her freedom in 1855. In 1860, Keckley relocated to Baltimore, Maryland, and then to Washington D C where she opened a successful ...

Article

Anne Bradford Warner

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 ...