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Black History Month Spotlight
Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly 1818-1907
“None of us are perfect, for which reason we should heed the voice of charity when it whispers in our ears, "Do not magnify the imperfections of others.”
When people think of dressmakers to the First Ladies, they probably do not know the story of Elizabeth Keckly. She was born into slavery in Dinwiddie, VA, in 1818 but was sent away as a teen to serve in the household of her master's son, a Presbyterian minister in Hillsborough, NC. Her life there was horrible as the work was difficult, and she had to do most of it herself, in support of the finishing school for girls conducted in the home. She survived various forms of abuse and later was sent with another sibling's family to St. Louis, MO. There she became highly sought out as a modiste (dressmaker) of great skill.
Because of her dressmaking prowess and superior business skills, she purchased her freedom and that of her son. She then moves to Washington, DC, and is employed by Mrs. Mary Todd Lincoln as her exclusive dressmaker and close confidant, along the way crafting garments for the Washington elite. After the assassination of President Lincoln, she leaves Washinton to establish the dressmaking program at Wilberforce University. As a member of the 15th Street Presbyterian Church she generously supported the abolitionist cause, mutual aid for Colored Soldiers, and other causes advocating education for African Americans. She passed away in 1907 at the age of 89.
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