Sunday, November 13, 2005

Elizabeth Keckley

Born 1818/9 to George and Agnes Hobbs in Hillsborough, North Carolina, Lizzie, as she was referred to, had no formal education. Her parents were slaves and her father had a different master than her mother and lived 100 miles from Lizzie. Lizzie's father was allowed to visit only at Easter and Christmas. After age 7 or 8, she never saw her father again as his master moved away, taking George with him. Lizzie was with her mother most of the time until her teenage years, then she was given to the Colonel's son and his bride as a wedding gift. Lizzie's skills as a seamstress were taught to her by her mother during her childhood. Her skills as a seamstress eventually helped her earn her freedom and that of her son.

Her only child, George, was named after her father. George's father was a friend and neighbor of the Colonel's son. George was born through an unwanted and forced relationship. Lizzie went on to marrie James Keckly in 1852 and within a few years found out he was not emancipated and was an alcoholic. Lizzie's master had promised she could buy freedom for herself and her son after he died; but she did not have the money when he passed away. Thanks to the generosity of one of her patrons, she was loaned the $1,200 she needed for their freedom.

Lizzie had quite a list of accomplishments during her life including:

1. Starting a school for young black girls to teach them sewing and etiquette in Baltimore, Maryland (her first home after she gained her freedom).

2. She was the personal dressmaker for Mary Todd Lincoln after her work on Mary's Inaugural Ball gown pleased the President and Mrs Lincoln very much.

3. President and founder of the first Black Contraband Relief Association.

4. Lizzie was Mary Todd Lincoln's best friend and confidante. She seemed to be the only person who understood and tolerated Mary's unstable temperament and sharp tongue.

5. Wrote a book, Behind the Scenes, about the life of Mary Todd Lincoln, and the happenings in the White House during Lincoln's tenure. The book was very controversial and Mary Todd's eldest son had the book removed from publication.

Here's to another Gutsy Woman!

Copyright M. A. Webb, 2005. All Rights Reserved

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