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Legacies: Collecting America's History at the Smithsonian, by Steven Lubar and Kathleen M. Kendrick
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Gown made by Elizabeth Keckley for Mary Todd Lincoln, about 1864Gown made by Elizabeth Keckley for Mary Todd Lincoln, about 1864

Originally collected in 1916 for its associations with Mary Todd Lincoln, this purple velvet gown has received new attention from historians because of its connection with Elizabeth Keckley, an African American dressmaker and confidante of Mrs. Lincoln's. Born a slave in 1818, Keckley worked as a dressmaker in St. Louis, using her skills to buy freedom for herself and her son. After moving to Washington, D.C., in 1860, she built a successful career and became a prominent figure in the black community, organizing relief and educational programs for emancipated slaves. In 1868 she published Behind the Scenes, a memoir of her relationship with the first lady.

See also: Clothing, First Ladies Collection

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