Elizabeth Keckley in 1870

4.9 Elizabeth Keckly: Slave to Entrepreneur

Elizabeth Keckly

In 1868 Elizabeth Keckly published a remarkable book called Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House. It showed the horrors of slavery and also her subsequent success as a fashionable dressmaker and also her complicated friendship with Mary Lincoln. Listen in for the story of a woman as remarkable as her book.

A note about spelling: The book was published under the name Elizabeth Keckley, with an extra e, and that is often how her name is spelled in other sources. I am following biographer Jennifer Fleischner’s lead in spelling it without that second e because that is how Lizzy herself always spelled it.

Selected Sources and Images

I have two major sources for today. One is Elizabeth Keckly’s own work Behind the Scenes. You can read the full text for free from the University of North Carolina, but the version I used was from Penguin, with a very helpful introduction by William L. Andrews. The other major source was Jennifer Fleischner’s Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly.

This photo of Lizzy was taken shortly after her move to Washington D.C., around the time that she began working for Mary Lincoln.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This purple velvet day dress was made by Lizzy for Mary Lincoln and can still be seen in the Smithsonian. There is more information on it on their website.

This statue of Elizabeth Keckly is now at the Virginia Women’s Monument.

Source: By Kss5pj – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The feature image is a photo of Lizzy in 1870, after the publication of her book and after her subsequent fallout with Mary. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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