Behind the Scenes
Publication Date 29 Dec 2014
OverviewFrom slavery to the White House
In her riveting memoir, Elizabeth Keckley (1818–1907) takes us behind the scenes of her amazing story, set against some of the most dramatic elements of American history. Following the arc of Keckley’s eventful life, which began in slavery and saw her become dressmaker to the First Lady, her book’s unique vantage point illustrates the country’s violent transition from the slave era to emancipation.
Born a slave in Dinwiddie, Virginia, Keckley describes the cruelties that tortured her body but failed to break her spirit. Sent with her master’s family to Missouri, she became a skilled dressmaker whose designs were in high demand. In 1855, with loans from her clientele, Keckley secured freedom for herself and her son. By 1860, she had her own business in Washington, D.C. After Mrs. Lincoln wore Keckley’s “rose-colored moire-antique” dress to the inauguration, Keckley became the First Lady’s “modiste” (maker of fashionable dresses and hats).
Keckley had a rare viewpoint on the workings of the White House. She witnessed first-hand the effects of the Lincolns’ son Willie’s death and the president’s assassination, and became Mrs. Lincoln’s confidante. Although Keckley greatly admired President Lincoln, her self-portrait of Mrs. Lincoln was more complex. In some of the book’s most illuminating and then-controversial passages, Keckley writes with intimate detail about her relationship with the First Lady, including much of their deeply personal correspondence.
Dramatic, revealing, and historically compelling, Behind the Scenes is a moving portrait of an extraordinary woman at a remarkable time in history.