1st edition Keckly – L2 K25b 1868 cop. 3

Keckly’s Story

Elizabeth “Lizzy” Keckly’s determination and remarkable skill as a seamstress took her from enslavement in Virginia to free work dressmaking for Washington’s elites. Through this work, she became close to several prominent women but none more than Mary Lincoln. Following the Civil War, Keckly told her remarkable story in her aptly-named memoir, Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House.

Now considered an American classic, Keckly’s book (shown here as a first edition) faced controversy in its own time. White observers questioned if Keckly was capable of writing such clear and meaningful prose—a common racist critique of Black authors. The book also contained several letters from Mary Lincoln’s scandalous “dress affair,” in which she was publicly humiliated for trying to sell some of her White House clothes. Keckly’s role in publishing the letters is unclear, but Mary permanently severed their relationship.

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