12 December 2009
Elizabeth Keckley: Is She a Pioneer of Womanism?
Keckley was born a slave in Virginia. She was an excellent seamstress and dressmaker. Using her skill and contacts she bought her freedom in 1855. After she was freed, she made her way to Washington, D.C. Elizabeth Keckley (1818-1907), seamstress and dressmaker to the wives of many political movers and shakers of that day. Her client list included Varina Davis, of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Mary Todd Lincoln, of President Abraham Lincoln. She sewed and tailored dresses for the daughters and ladies of the most prominent families. As her reputation mounted, she came to the attention of Mary Todd Lincoln, and soon became her dressmaker. Keckley’s soon became a companion to Mary Todd. When Mary Todd fell under financial strain after the assassination of her husband, Keckley helped Mary Todd auction off her clothing in New York. This effort proved to be futile and only served to bring negative attention to Mary Todd. In another attempt to generate funds for Todd as well as her, Keckley published her diaries in 1868: Behind the Scenes or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. [pic]
Mary Todd hated her portrayal in the book, to the point where her oldest son had it removed from publication. Because of the controversy, Keckley was treated like an outcast and her business declined. Throughout her experiences Keckley maintained an air of dignity and self respected. When Keckley and Mary Todd went their separate ways, Keckley did not deign to speak ill of Mary Todd. This was indicative of the strength of character that Keckley possessed. According to the African American Registry, “From 1892 to 1893, she left Washington to teach domestic science at Wilberforce University in Ohio. She returned soon after to spend the rest of her days at the Home for Destitute Women and Children in Washington, which she had helped to establish. She died...
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