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Elizabeth Keckley
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Personal Assistant
    (February 1818-May 1907)
    Born in Dinwiddie, Virginia
    Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley
    Modiste, seamstress; former slave
    Personal confidante of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln
    Started a prominent dress-shop in Washington, D.C.
    Author of 'Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House' (1868)
    Portrayed by Gloria Reuben in Steven Spielberg's 'Lincoln' (2012)
    Oprah Winfrey did voice-work as her in a PBS special.
    She left her faculty post at Wilberforce University shortly after receiving it.
    Before being hired as an aide to the First Lady, her most loyal clients included the wives of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis.
    In her later years she became almost as neurotic and reclusive as her boss.
    The gowns she designed for Mrs. Lincoln - while beautiful - were used as fodder for reporters claiming that the First Lady was living a lavish and extravagant social life during a time of war.
    She organized the humiliating 'old clothes auction' fiasco, an attempt to raise funds to pay off the widowed Mrs. Lincoln's debts (it failed miserably).
    She became estranged from Mrs. Lincoln after the backlash over the publication of 'Behind the Scenes' (a tell-all book that Mary had ASKED her to write to help pay off her debts).
    The book's publication was particularly scandalous because it contained private correspondences between herself and Mrs. Lincoln, which the Lincoln family deemed a betrayal (Mary's son, Robert, was particularly upset).
    The outrage extended to readers from her own community, many of whom feared that it would 'give them all a bad name' - dissuading potential white employers from hiring African-Americans in the future.
    She was a literate female slave when it was highly uncommon.
    She sustained brutal beatings as a slave, from childhood into adulthood (and as a young woman would endure a series of horrific rapes).
    She didn't learn that her father was a rich white planter until her mother revealed it in a deathbed confession.
    She was resourceful; utilizing her talent as a seamstress to earn her freedom in little over two years.
    She was a major fundraiser for both the war effort and the free black community.
    Her son was killed in action during the Civil War. Just six months later, the Lincolns' son would die from Typhoid fever.
    In the final decade of her life, Mary Lincoln only ever referred to Keckley as 'the colored historian' (although Elizabeth claimed that they reconciled privately).
    She forever maintained that she had been tricked into turning over her private correspondences to publishers, who assured her that they wouldn't be reprinted.
    In addition to usual 'authenticity' questions put to slave narrative authors, her book was satirized in a cruel racist parody, viciously titled 'Behind the Seams: By a Nigger Woman who took in work for Mrs. Lincoln.'
    Her business suffered during the years she spent as a companion to Mrs. Lincoln. She would die penniless in a local charity ward.
    The dress she designed for Mary Todd to wear at the President's second inauguration is held by the Smithsonian's American History Museum (Mrs. Lincoln also posed for several Matthew Brady photos in her dresses).

Credit: BoyWiththeGreenHair

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