The Library Springfield-Greene County Library District Springfield, Missouri

Author Discusses Former Slave Elizabeth Keckly, Dressmaker and Confidante to Mary Todd Lincoln March 16

February 27, 2019 —      One of the more touching, personal stories about President Abraham Lincoln’s family is that of Elizabeth Keckly, a woman who bought herself out of slavery and became First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln’s personal dressmaker and confidante.

     Young adults and adults can hear the story of Elizabeth Keckly and Mrs. Lincoln from author Dr. Jennifer Fleischner in presentations at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 16, in the Library Center auditorium.

     The event is sponsored by Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield in cooperation with the Library and the Civil War Roundtable of the Ozarks. In a tragic tie to the national park, Keckly’s son George was a Union Army soldier who died at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.

     Professor Fleischner’s program is “It May Be Charged That I Have Written Too Freely’: Elizabeth Keckly and Mary Lincoln Remember and Write.”

     The first program at 2 p.m.  is geared toward young adults, and will not only tell the story of Keckly and Lincoln, but will explain how students can interpret historic documents.

     The second program at 7 p.m. for adults will focus on the relationship between Keckly and Lincoln.

     Elizabeth Keckly lived a remarkable life. Born into slavery in Virginia in 1818, she was forced into a relationship with a white man that produced a son named George. She purchased freedom for herself and her son in 1855 and established her own dressmaking business. When President and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1861, Elizabeth Keckly became Mary Todd Lincoln’s confidante and best friend. In 1868, Keckly wrote of their relationship in her book, “Behind the Scenes or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House.”

     Fleischner is a professor in the Department of English, Adelphi University. Her books include “Mastering Slavery: Memory, Family, and Identity in Women’s Slave Narratives;” “Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly: The Remarkable Story of the Friendship Between a First Lady and a Former Slave;”  “Nobody’s Boy;” and an edition of Harriet Jacobs’ “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.” Some of these titles will be available for purchase and signing at the event.

     For more information, call 616-0534.


Kathleen O'Dell
Community Relations Director
(417) 616-0564
Sarah Jane Rosendahl
(417) 616-0566

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