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Elizabeth Keckley, Dressmaker


Elizabeth Keckley was born into slavery in Dinwiddie County, Virginia. She grew up working in the household of Armistead Burwell, where her duties included sewing dresses for Burwell's wife and daughters. When one of the Burwell daughters married and moved to St. Louis, Missouri, she took "Lizzie" along. In Missouri, Elizabeth Keckley's dressmaking work helped support the household. She created fashionable dresses for a clientele of society ladies in St. Louis. In 1855, when her owner died, she found a way to buy freedom for herself and her son George. She borrowed money from some of her wealthy patrons, set up shop as a free dressmaker, and worked to repay her debt. Shown here is a portrait of Elizabeth Keckley; date unknown.


Elizabeth Keckley, Ostendorf Collection.