61 Facts About Elizabeth Keckley


Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was an American seamstress, activist, and writer who lived in Washington, DC She was the personal dressmaker and confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln.


Elizabeth Keckley became a nursemaid to an infant when she was four years old.


Elizabeth Keckley established a dressmaking business that grew to include a staff of 20 seamstresses.


Elizabeth Keckley's clients were the wives of elite politicians, including Varina Davis, the wife of Jefferson Davis, and Mary Anna Custis Lee, the wife of Robert E Lee.


Elizabeth Keckley was born into slavery in February 1818, in Dinwiddie County Court House, Dinwiddie, Virginia, just south of Petersburg.


Elizabeth Keckley was the only child of her mother Agnes, a light-skinned Black woman whose white ancestors were members of the planter class.


Elizabeth Keckley's mother, nicknamed "Aggy", was a "house slave" who had learned to read and write even though it was illegal for enslaved people.

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Elizabeth Keckley made clothes for 82 people: 12 members of the Burwell family and the 70 people they enslaved.


Elizabeth Keckley learned that her father was Armistead Burwell from her mother just before she died.


Elizabeth Keckley permitted Agnes to marry George Pleasant Hobbs, a literate enslaved man who lived and worked at a neighbor's house during Keckley's early childhood.


Elizabeth Keckley was enslaved by Burwell, who served as a colonel in the War of 1812, and his wife Mary.


Elizabeth Keckley lived in the Burwell house with her mother and began working when she was four years old.


Elizabeth Keckley was harshly punished if she failed to care properly for the baby.


At the age of 14, in 1832, Elizabeth Keckley was sent "on generous loan" to live with and serve the eldest Burwell son Robert in Chesterfield County, Virginia, near Petersburg, when he married Margaret Anna Robertson.


Elizabeth Keckley stated that Margaret seemed "desirous to wreak vengeance" upon her.


When Elizabeth Keckley was 18, Bingham called her to his quarters and ordered her to undress so that he could beat her.


Again Elizabeth Keckley was sent back to her master with bleeding welts upon her back.


Elizabeth Keckley asked for her forgiveness and said that he would not beat her again.


When she was 18 years of age, about 1836, Keckley was given to her owner's friend, Alexander M Kirkland.


Elizabeth Keckley was returned to Virginia where she served Mary and Armistead Burwell's daughter, Ann Burwell Garland and her husband, Hugh A Garland.


Elizabeth Keckley became an accomplished seamstress and, by working long hours, all of the money earned from her labor supported the seventeen-member Garland family, who suffered significant financial reverses by that time.


Elizabeth Keckley established connections with women in the white community, which she later drew on as a free dressmaker.


Elizabeth Keckley met her future husband James in St Louis, but refused to marry him until she and her son were free, because she did not want to have another child born into slavery.


Elizabeth Keckley stayed in St Louis until she repaid the $1,200 loan, after which she intended to leave St Louis and James Keckley.


Elizabeth Keckley intended to teach young "colored women" her method of cutting and fitting dresses, but found that she would not be able to earn a sufficient living for herself and her son.

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Elizabeth Keckley planned to work as a seamstress in Washington, but she could not afford the required license for a free black to remain in the city for more than 10 or 30 days.


Ringold, a member of General John Mason's family from Virginia, vouched that Elizabeth Keckley was a free woman, another requirement for residence.


Elizabeth Keckley steadily built a client base so that she had enough work to support herself.


Elizabeth Keckley employed 20 seamstresses at her 12th Street business.


Elizabeth Keckley had a talent for draping fabric and fitting garments.


Elizabeth Keckley later became the favored family seamstress of Varina Davis, the wife of then Senator Jefferson Davis, who with her husband discussed the prospects of war in her presence.


Elizabeth Keckley hired seamstresses to finish the dress for McLean, who arranged a meeting the following week for her with Mary Todd Lincoln.


Elizabeth Keckley met Mary Todd Lincoln on March 4,1861, the day of Abraham Lincoln's first inauguration and had an interview the following day.


Elizabeth Keckley made clothing in a simplified style of Victorian fashion, which was sophisticated, with clean lines, and without a lot of ribbon or lace.


Elizabeth Keckley, who was ladylike and had a regal bearing, became Lincoln's best friend.


Elizabeth Keckley often visited the Lincolns' living quarters and was in attendance during private family conversations by 1862.


Elizabeth Keckley was with the Lincolns when they visited Richmond, Virginia after the end of the Civil War.


Elizabeth Keckley had a calming manner and helped Lincoln navigate during periods of agitation and grief.


Elizabeth Keckley, who lost her son during a Civil War battle in August 1861, was a source of strength and comfort for Lincoln after Willie died of typhoid fever in February 1862 and after President Lincoln's assassination.


Elizabeth Keckley acquired Mary Lincoln's dress from the second inauguration, the blood-spattered cloak and bonnet from the night of the assassination, as well as some of the President's personal items.


Elizabeth Keckley accompanied Lincoln and her children to Illinois after the assassination.


Elizabeth Keckley assisted her in disposing of articles of value by accompanying her to New York to find a broker to handle the sales.


Elizabeth Keckley donated her Lincoln memorabilia to Wilberforce College for its sale in fundraising to rebuild after a fire in 1865, which upset Lincoln.


In 1868, Elizabeth Keckley published Behind the Scenes, which told her story of slavery and provided insight into the lives of the Lincolns.


Elizabeth Keckley described her own rise from slavery to life as a middle-class businesswoman who employed staff to help complete her projects.

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Elizabeth Keckley placed herself in the educated, mixed-race middle class of the black community.


Elizabeth Keckley emphasized her ability to overcome difficulties and the development of her business sense.


Elizabeth Keckley wrote about the Lincolns, in a style of near hagiography for the president, but with a cool, analytical eye for Mary Lincoln.


Elizabeth Keckley hoped that the income from the book would provide some financial support for Lincoln.


Elizabeth Keckley has been seen by historians to have lost her friendship with Lincoln while Elizabeth Keckley maintained that it did not ruin their friendship, that the women continued to correspond.


Elizabeth Keckley continued to attempt to earn a modest living until about 1890.


Elizabeth Keckley founded the Contraband Relief Association in August 1862, receiving donations from both Lincolns, as well as other white patrons and well-to-do free blacks.


Elizabeth Keckley wrote about the contrabands in Washington, DC, in her autobiography.


When she lived in St Louis, Elizabeth became reacquainted with James Keckley, whom she knew in Virginia.


Elizabeth Keckley separated from him, and their marriage officially ended with his death, due to his excesses.


Elizabeth Keckley was a private in the 1st Missouri Volunteer Infantry, Company D, led by Captain Richardson.


Elizabeth Keckley died on August 10,1861, during the Battle of Wilson's Creek.


Elizabeth Keckley had residential rooms at her business on 12th Street.


Elizabeth Keckley made a christening gown for her infant goddaughter, which is among the collection of the National Museum of American History.


Elizabeth Keckley was a member of the Union Bethel Church until 1865, when she joined the 15th Street Presbyterian Church in Washington.


In May 1907, Elizabeth Keckley died as a resident of the National Home, located on Euclid St NW, in Washington, DC She was interred at Columbian Harmony Cemetery.