Reference Blog Entries

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley

Laura's picture

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.  Image of Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley

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.

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:

Use these sources to read about this extraordinary person.

And don’t forget, you can always contact a Reference Librarian by phone, textemail, or in person for assistance in using our databases and eBooks.

Logo Historical Newspaapers Logo Gale Biography in Context


Megan's picture

While the Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedias are excellent references for anything you’d need to know about an animal, there’s always been a tragic gap in their discussion. What’s been missing?


Luckily, there are two new volumes of Grzimek’s:

  • Extinction features discussion on major extinctions and extinct life, including dinosaurs and much more.
  • Evolution explores evolution (naturally!), including recent ideas, and new discoveries.

Get ready for Jurassic World by learning all the facts about dinosaurs now, so you can be properly snobby about what they got wrong when the movie comes out! And maybe rewatch the previous installments while you’re at it.

If you’re over 30, catch up on everything that’s changed in the dinosaur world since your youth - feathers? - with My Beloved Brontosaurus.

Grzimek's Extinction cover image Grzimek's Evolution cover image