INSIDE ISSUE 105: UNLIKELY FRIENDSHIP
Order by 15 February to receive this issue
Elizabeth Keckley and Mary Todd LincolnElizabeth “Lizzie” Keckley, a seamstress whose story is recounted in her autobiography, Behind the Scenes. “My life has been an eventful one,” she begins. “I was born a slave—was the child of slave parents— therefore I came upon the earth free in God-like thought, but fettered in action.” She was born in Virginia in 1818, the daughter of a white plantation owner and a literate house slave named Agnes. Her growing-up years were all too typical of enslaved women’s experiences: family separations, vicious beatings, and an enforced sexual relationship that endured for four long years. All the while, she sewed, both for the household’s use and to earn them extra money. Eventually, Keckley was taken to St. Louis, where the family that owned her fell on hard times. “With my needle,” she recalled with pride, “I kept bread in the mouths of seventeen persons.” At last, in 1855, she managed to buy her freedom with the support of a network of white patrons she had established through her work as a bespoke dressmaker.
Once free, Keckley moved back east and became known in Washington society as a seamstress of exceptional skill. In 1860, on the eve of the war, she was engaged as “modiste” by Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis, then a senator for Mississippi. Keckley recalled that southern politicians came and went frequently as she worked on fittings, discussing the “prospects of war... by Glenn Adamson