Friday, February 14, 2014

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley

Hello All,

I am having fun researching African Americans in fashion.  I am finding a lot of information.  Another African American fashion designer I want to highlight is Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley.  Heckley was a former slave who became a successful seamstress, civic activist, and author.

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave in 1818 in Dinwiddie, VA.  Her mother was a "privileged slave" and her father, who was revealed to her later in life, was her slave master, Armistead Burwell. She endured a somewhat brutal life while growing up.  She gave birth to a son, George, in 1839.  While she was still working for the Garland family, her sewing helped support her family.  After she moved with the Garland family to St. Louis, MO, Keckley was able to mingle with its large free black community, as well as establish a connection with women in the white community working a s a free dressmaker.

Keckley met her future husband, James, while also in St. Louis, but refuse to marry him unless she and her son were free.  Once her freedom was granted, she was married and worked hard in her sewing business.  In 1860, she moved to Baltimore, MD and started teaching sewing classes to young black girls, but after six weeks, she hardly had enough money saved to move to Washington, DC.

Once she raised the money, she moved to Washington, DC, and her business took off.  Her clients included:

  • Mary Todd Lincoln (wife of President Abraham Lincoln)

  • Mary Anna Custis Lee (wife of Gen. Robert E. Lee)

  • Varina Davis (wife of Jefferson Davis)

Keckley found most of her work with society women by word-of-mouth recommendations.  Keckley worked as Mary Todd Lincoln's personal dressmaker, stylist, and confidante.  While in the White House (and years after) she was the sole designer and creator of Mary Todd Lincoln's event wardrobe.  Although it was a strain in their relationship years later, they still remained in contact with each other.

In later years, she still remained busy with her sewing, teaching sewing classes to young African American women, and she also obtained a position as head of the Department of Sewing and Domestic Science Arts at Wilberforce University.  Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley died in 1907.

Keckley's Designs




Keckley in her design

Quilt created from scraps of Mary Todd Lincoln's dresses
Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley.  An innovator of fashion and American history.
Until Next Time!

No comments:

Post a Comment