Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House

By Elizabeth Keckley

164 pp., 6 x 9, 6 illus.

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-6963-5
    Published: September 2011
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-6964-2
    Published: September 2011

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A DocSouth Book, Distributed for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library

Behind the Scenes is the life story of Elizabeth Keckley, a shrewd entrepreneur who, while enslaved, raised enough money to purchase freedom for herself and her son. Keckley moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a seamstress and dressmaker for the wives of influential politicians. She eventually became a close confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln. Several years after President Lincoln's assassination, when Mrs. Lincoln's financial situation had worsened, Keckley helped organize an auction of the former first lady's dresses, eliciting strong criticism from members of the Washington elite. Behind the Scenes is, therefore, both a slave narrative and Keckley's attempt to defend the motives behind the auction. However, the book's publication prompted an even greater public outcry, with the added racial subtext of white society's disdain for Keckley's audacity in publishing details of the Lincolns' private lives. Keckley's dressmaking business failed, the Lincoln family cut all ties with her, and she lived out her final days in a home for the indigent. Scholars have acknowledged the book's valuable account of slave life as well as its intimate view into the Lincoln White House. Biographers of the Lincolns have quoted extensively from Keckley's text.

A DOCSOUTH BOOK. This collaboration between UNC Press and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library brings classic works from the digital library of Documenting the American South back into print. DocSouth Books uses the latest digital technologies to make these works available in paperback and e-book formats. Selected and edited by Bryan Giemza, Director of the Southern Historical Collection, each book contains a short summary and is otherwise unaltered from the original publication. DocSouth Books provide affordable and easily accessible editions to a new generation of scholars, students, and general readers.

About the Author

Elizabeth Keckley was born into slavery in Virginia, moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where she earned enough money to free herself and her son, and then moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a seamstress and dressmaker for prominent Washington women, including Mary Todd Lincoln. Sadly, she spent her final years in the Home for Destitute Women and Children, which she had helped to establish.
For more information about Elizabeth Keckley, visit the Author Page.