This is the story of Elizabth Keckley, a slave who became a free woman and a business owner as well as the favored dressmake of Mary Todd Lincoln – President Lincoln’s wife.
Her story begins on a plantation in Virginia. Elizabeth was only four years old when she was given the job of taking care of her mistress’s brand new baby. She was so excited to take care of the pretty baby that she rocked the cradle a little too hard and the baby fell out onto the floor. She was whipped for that…a four year-old! And that whipping would not be her last. Elizabeth had a very hard life as a slave. It’s a wonder she even survived, let alone growing up to be a free woman and the owner of her own business.
Elizabeth’s mom was a gifted seamstress and she taught Elizabeth how to sew. Their master would hire Elizabeth out to other ladies in St. Louis who wanted pretty dresses. One of those clients loaned Elizabeth the money to buy her own freedom. Elizabeth moved to Washington DC and was soon sewing dresses for famous wives – Mrs. Robert E. Lee and Mrs. Jefferson Davis. It was only a matter of time before her dresses caught the eye of Mrs. Lincoln.
That’s when the story gets really intersting. It is the tale of two very different women in very different circumstances who manage to carve our a friendship in the oddest of circumstances. Mary Lincoln didn’t just need pretty dresses, she needed a friend.
- Look Inside Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker
- Women in History: Elizabeth Keckley
- Read an Excerpt from Elizabeth Keckley’s Autobiography
- Mary Todd Lincoln Photo Gallery