Elizabeth Keckly

An interview with digital curator Dorothy Berry

Color illustration of Elizabeth Keckley, a Black woman wearing a purple 1860's style dress.

Part One

One of my first tasks at the museum was writing a story about Elizabeth Keckly, who was the dressmaker to Mary Todd Lincoln, the First Lady with Abraham Lincoln. So I was excited to get an opportunity to work with this memoir of hers.

She was born into slavery and suffered, like many other people, during her enslavement for all sorts of abuses.

And then she began through learning from her mother and other women around her, to know how to sew and eventually supported both her enslavers, with her sewing skills, and eventually her own family when she was freed.

Detailed line drawing of the White House
Line drawing of a floor-length, short sleeve gown.

Part Two

By the time she got to Washington, D.C., she had a rich community of other African Americans, and eventually had her own dressmaking shop.

She became a favorite of Mary Todd Lincoln, and created so many custom dresses for her.