If you saw the movie Lincoln (Steven Spielberg, 2012) you may have noticed a character who was the dressmaker for Mary Todd Lincoln. In one scene she spoke with President Lincoln and tried to persuade him to go forward with emancipation. What you may not know is this character is based on a real-life person, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley. She was a slave, but managed to buy her freedom and her son’s using her skill as a dressmaker.
Mrs. Keckley wrote her autobiography, Behind the Scenes: or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House .It was first published in 1868 and re-issued as a Penguin Classic paperback in 2005.
The library owns this and several other books based on her life.
- Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker: a Novel by Jennifer Chiaverini, 2013 (fiction)
- An Unlikely Friendship: a Novel of Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley by Ann Rinaldi, 2007 (fiction)
- Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckley: the Remarkable Story of the Friendship Between a First Lady and a Former Slave by Jennifer Fleischner, 2003 (nonfiction)
Several of these are also available as e-books and books on CD.
In addition to these full-length books, the library has historical databases that provide primary resources about her life. For example,
- The New York Times (16 April 1868) review of her autobiography in its New Publications column
- A NYT article (12 November 1862) reporting that Mary Todd Lincoln donated the generous sum of $200 for the Contraband Relief Association of Washington of which Mrs. Keckley was the president, for the relief of freedmen in and around Washington, DC.
- An advertisement for her autobiography (list price: $2.08) in the NYT (30 May 1868)
There are excellent sources of biographical information on Mrs. Keckley available through the library’s Gale Biography in Context database. For example:
- A transcript of an interview with Clarence Lusane, Associate Professor of the American University School of International Service and the author of “The Black History of the White House.”
- An article from the New York Times in January 2013.
- Informative websites
- Articles from scholarly journals
Use these sources to read about this extraordinary person.