Press release/biographical information on Elizabeth Keckly, the subject of the
East Haddam Stage Company's production of
"They Called Me Lizzy...from Slavery to the White House"
Born in Dinwiddie Courthouse Virginia, Elizabeth Keckly lived through the harrowing experience of slavery and it's inherent cruelties to mind and body, to emerge triumphant. Through her talents as a seamstress, this quietly proud and resourceful woman was able to achieve freedom, travel to Washington D.C., set herself up as a business woman in the dressmakers trade, and meet with great success. She came to the attention of Mary Todd Lincoln, became her personal dressmaker/designer, as well as what we refer to today as a stylist. She also became Mary's confidante and intimate of the entire Lincoln family. It was her connection to this family that defined the rest of her life.
During the Civil War she helped create the Contraband Relief Association, which provided assistance to newly freed men and women pouring into the area. She also was instrumental in a number of other charitable causes through her church and community. Included in these was the Home for Destitute Colored Women and Children. She was there, day after day, in the White House, for the duration of the Lincoln's presidency, and the aftermath of the assassination. In defense of Mary Todd Lincoln, Mrs. Keckly wrote a book, ‘Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House'. It was met with scorn and rejection by most, including Mrs. Lincoln, who saw it as a betrayal. She severed all connections between herself and Lizzy.
Elizabeth, while not formally educated herself, went on to become the head of Wilberforce University's Department of Domestic Arts and Sciences at Xenia Ohio. While there, in the early 1890s, she suffered a mild stroke. Having resigned her position, she returned to Washington D.C. to live out the remainder of her life in solitude and poverty at the very Home for Destitute Women and Children she had helped found years earlier.
Areas of her life covered in the text of the play are: