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Elizabeth Keckley: Seamstress

A Road Scholar Program by Marlene Rivero

Initially known for her work in the White House for President Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, Elizabeth Keckley gained a reputation as a first-rate tailor and dressmaker while enslaved. For over two and a half years, she used her hands and needle to provide for the seventeen people of her Master’s household. Keckley says, “While I was working so hard that others might live in comparative comfort and move in those circles of society to which their birth gave them entrance, the thought often occurred to me whether I was really worth my salt or not; then perhaps the lips curled with a bitter sneer.” After Elizabeth’s freedom, those same hands worked for little or no pay. As an ex-slave she was still forced to make concessions on her prices in order to get work from the white middle- and upper-class women she worked for. It was unheard of in those days for any woman, much less a Black woman, to create and own a business. Keckley did just that, eventually employing over twenty women. This is the life that Marlene Rivero will bring to the stage, offering the audience a glimpse into the past with a story deserving of our attention.

This event is Free and Open to the public. For more information, please contact Alanna Sablotny at asablotny@chathamlib.org.