Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born into slavery in 1818 to Agnes and George Pleasant Hobbs on the Col. Armistead Burwell property in Dinwiddle County, Virginia. She is well known for being Mary Lincoln’s dressmaker and confidante, as well as the author of Behind the Scenes By Elizabeth Keckley, Formerly a Slave, But More Recently Modiste, and Friend to Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House (1868).

Keckley had a thriving dressmaking career in Washington, D.C., when she met Mary Lincoln on President Lincoln’s first day in office. Her connection with Mary Lincoln and her work for her gave her a unique perspective on events during the era, which she recorded in Behind the Scenes (1868). Keckley stayed with Mary Lincoln for a time after Lincoln’s assassination, but her book, in which she divulged confidential information about life within the White House, was contentious and strained her relationship with Mary Lincoln. Keckley’s ability to earn a living was harmed by the negative reaction to the book in D.C.’s white community. Finally, in 1892, at the age of 74, she accepted a position as head of the Department of Sewing and Domestic Science Arts at Wilberforce University in Ohio.

Keckley was also a significant person in D.C.’s free black society, having helped to organize and serve as president of the Contraband Relief Association, subsequently known as the Ladies’ Freedmen and Soldiers Relief Association.

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley died in the National Home for Destitute Colored Women and Children in Washington, D.C. in May of 1907.