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Michal Scott: Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley — An Extraordinary Life In Her Own Words (Contest)
Monday, June 27th, 2022

UPDATE: The winner is…flchen1!

As a writer, I’m fascinated by women who use their agency to tell their own stories or stories others need to hear. This is particularly true of formerly enslaved women like Ida B. Wells Barnett, Harriet Jacobs, and Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley. I’d like to share today about Elizabeth.

In 1818, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born into slavery in Virginia. The family that owned her allowed her to learn to read and write. She also learned sewing, the skill that eventually set her up in her own business. While still enslaved, her owners moved her to Missouri in 1846 where she used her sewing talent to raise money for her owners. It was here that she first caught Mary Todd Lincoln’s attention.

Elizabeth’s owners agreed to set her and her son free if she could raise $1,200. By 1855 with the help of vigilance committees, she was able to raise the money.  She used her skills as a seamstress to pay back these loans. In 1860, she moved to Washington D.C. and built a dressmaking business thanks to referrals from Varina Davis, the wife of Jefferson Davis. One of Elizabeth’s patrons ordered a dress from her for the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. This patron recommended her as a dressmaker to Mary Todd Lincoln. The rest as they say is history.

She was an integral part of the Lincoln household and recounts her life with them as part of her memoir, Behind the Scenes: Or Thirty Years A Slave and Four in the White House. However, the work was not as well-received as the narratives of other former slaves. Her recounting was seen as a breach of trust between her and Mary Lincoln. The book had poor sales, and she lost customers because of the controversy it created. The White House Historical Association has a fuller account of her life as a slave and her time in the White House on their website:

She did not let the book’s reception get her down. She defended what she did and continued to help others by teaching other Black women how to sew and founding two organizations to aid other Blacks:  the Contraband Relief Association, a relief organization for Blacks freed by Northern troops and had come to Washington D.C. as “contraband of war,” and the National Home for Destitute Colored Women and Children. In 1892 she moved to Ohio to accept the position as head of the Department of Sewing and Domestic Science Arts at Wilberforce University. It is believed she suffered a stroke and returned from there to Washington D.C. where she died in the hospital she helped found. She was eighty-nine years old.

I love learning about women like Elizabeth Keckley, women who used their abilities to make life better for themselves and others. Her life is a witness to perseverance and encourages me to press on at a time when parts of our society seem hell-bent on stripping women of their rights. Share a story of your own about persistence in the comments for a chance at a $10 Amazon gift card.

One Breath Away

Sentenced to hand for a crime she didn’t commit, former slave Mary Hamilton was exonerated at literally the last gasp. She returns to Safe Haven, broken and resigned to live alone. Never having been courted, cuddled or spooned, Mary now fears any kind of physical intimacy when arousal forces her to relive the asphyxiation of her hanging. But then the handsome stranger who saved her shows up, stealing her breath from across the room and promising so much more.

Wealthy freeborn-Black Eban Thurman followed Mary to Safe Haven, believing a relationship with Mary was foretold by the stars. He must marry her to reclaim his family farm. But first he must help her heal, and to do that means revealing his own predilection for edgier sex.

Then just as Eban begins to win Mary’s trust, an enemy from the past threatens to keep them one breath away from love…

An excerpt from One Breath Away

Home at last, she’d see if meeting Eban meant this night would be good.

Since her ordeal, her sex rivaled the Chihuahuan Desert in dryness. Yet Eban’s gaze had summoned the fragrant flow that even now moistened her core. Could it be her body had finally healed? She swayed, dizzy with expectation.

The squeak of the indoor pump provided no distraction from the lingering tingle where Eban’s fingers had rested against her spine, where his lips had kissed her hand. She focused on her task to temper her excitement.

Fill the bucket. Lift the bucket. Carry the bucket. Empty the bucket. Fill the bucket. Lift the bucket. Carry the bucket. Empty the bucket.

The pans she filled slowly simmered then steamed on her small, pot-bellied stove.

Her heart seized as she fingered the simple gingham curtains covering Harvest Home’s windows. Harvest Home’s humble kitchen contrasted sharply with the trappings that had graced Mary’s Manor, her Weston restaurant expansion.

She’d looked up the word manor and decided her place would imitate that kind of luxury as much as possible. Brocaded drapes and white, linen tablecloths had dressed up the Manor’s supper room. Slipcovers made from the same linen covered the cushioned chairs. White, bone china and delicate silverware completed the picture of elegant dining she hoped to draw.

A Franklin stove, indoor pump, double sink, polished counter tops and spacious storage cupboards made the Manor’s kitchen a dream made true. Nothing lacked for the grand opening. Picturing couples enjoying themselves in her simple but elegant setting had become her favorite pastime.

Then Judah Little and his lies thwarted her plans. Thwarted. A good word. A true word.

“But not for long,” she whispered. “That dream will come true just as this dream might come true tonight.”


14 comments to “Michal Scott: Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley — An Extraordinary Life In Her Own Words (Contest)”

  1. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · June 27th, 2022 at 9:29 am · Link

    As always thanks Delilah for giving me space to share.

  2. Delilah
    · June 27th, 2022 at 9:38 am · Link

    It’s always a pleasure. One of my original degrees was in History. I’m always amazed with what I learn in your posts. It’s odd to me that so much of the information wasn’t part of the curriculum in the southern university I attended…

  3. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · June 27th, 2022 at 11:24 am · Link

    Glad to be a source of continuing ed. : D

  4. bn100
    · June 27th, 2022 at 3:38 pm · Link

    interesting post; persist in exercising

  5. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · June 27th, 2022 at 3:40 pm · Link

    Thanks for stopping by, bn100

  6. Mary Preston
    · June 27th, 2022 at 8:12 pm · Link

    Just fascinating thank you.

    I had to persist when learning to drive. I could drive, but the written test was a trial.

  7. flchen1
    · June 27th, 2022 at 10:17 pm · Link

    When I think of persistence, I think of the example my mother and her mother set for me. My mom is the youngest of eleven (not all of whom survived to adulthood); she and her family escaped during the Cultural Revolution in China thanks to my grandmother’s kindness to her neighbors, who warned them of impending arrest. They left with the clothes on their backs, and eventually made their way to Canada. My mother learned English by being thrown into English speaking middle school classes (ESL wasn’t a thing yet), and eventually graduated from college before moving to the US to work as a medical technologist. She took a leave to be a SAHM when we were young and then went back to a second career with the state government. I’m so thankful she persists still!

  8. Debra Guyette
    · June 28th, 2022 at 4:58 am · Link

    As to persistence, we adopted a young girl from Poland and ran into so many obstacles, including the consulate in New York. We really had to persist or our delightful daughter would not be with us

  9. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · June 28th, 2022 at 6:24 am · Link

    Thanks for sharing, Mary.

  10. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · June 28th, 2022 at 6:25 am · Link

    What a wonderful legacy, flchen1. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · June 28th, 2022 at 6:26 am · Link

    How wonderful, Debra. For you and for her. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Mary McCoy
    · July 8th, 2022 at 1:09 pm · Link

    My grandmother, who was born in 1896, was first generation American. Her family was so poor that she had to hire out as a live-in child minder to a wealthy family when she was 10. She never attended formal school after 3rd grade, but worked her way up to a job as a telephone switchboard operator (her supervisor went around on roller skates)and eventually married and had two kids, even managing to own a house. Her son needed complete care due to a birth injury, which she provided well into her 80s. Her example of hard work and perseverance encouraged my mom to be the first in her family to attend college and even get her graduate degree. When I was younger, Grandma’s favorite saying was that if you wanted to get something done, do it yourself or find another woman who knew how.

  13. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · July 8th, 2022 at 2:03 pm · Link

    Hi Mary, your grandmother is an inspiration. Thank you so much for sharing.

  14. Delilah
    · July 10th, 2022 at 5:47 am · Link

    A big thank you to Michal/Anna for being a great guest, as always!

    The winner of the gift card is…flchen1!

Comments are closed.