Behind the Scenes

December 29, 2014

Behind the Scenes or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the Lincoln White House

by Elizabeth Keckley


Originally published in 1868

In her memoir, Elizabeth Keckley takes readers behind the scenes of her story as set against elements of American history. The arc of Keckley's life, which began in slavery and saw her become dressmaker for the First Lady and other notable clients, illustrates the country's transition from the slave era to declaring of emancipation.


Born in Dinwiddie, Virginia and sent to Missouri, Keckley became a skilled dressmaker. In 1855, with loans from her clientele, Keckley secured freedom for herself and her son. By 1860, she had her own business in Washington, D.C. After fashioning the "rose-colored moire-antique" dress that First Lady Mary Lincoln wore to the innaguration, Keckley closed a deal to become the First Lady's "modiste" (maker of fashionable dresses and hats).


Keckley had a viewpoint on the workings of the White House that included her place as a confidante to Lincoln. Keckley witnessed the effects that the death of Willie -- the son -- and the assassination of President Lincoln had on the First Lady.


- adapted and revised from publisher


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