What sort of relationship did Elizabeth Keckley have with Mary Todd Lincoln?
We know a fair amount about this relationship although it's really complicated and it's hard to pin down entirely what it felt like for each of these two women. Mrs. Keckley was every few days at least, she would be over at the White House fitting Mrs. Lincoln for dresses, dressing her hair, doing that sort of thing, but she really became Mrs. Lincoln's confidante and Mrs. Lincoln described her as her friend. I'm not sure that Mrs. Keckley ever describes Mrs. Lincoln as her friend. I think that might've been too forward and it might not have been entirely true. The impression I get is that while these fittings were going on, Mrs. Lincoln poured out some of her troubles to her dressmaker. I don't think the dressmaker poured out too many of her troubles to Mrs. Lincoln. They had one of those complicated, unequal but sometimes intimate relationships that women have had through history that go across but also stay within the bounds of class and race. At different moments it would be a relationship between an Anglo woman and an Irish maid or an Anglo woman/Hispanic maid. Different ethnic groups women have this sort of relationship. Different aspects of life. Relationships with hairdressers, women who raise children or take care of children, and dressmakers and I think part of what's intriguing is that although few of us have been First Ladies, many more of us have been maids and seamstresses and hairdressers, that all of us have probably or at least many, many American women have been on one side or the other of these relationships and we don't have to go very far back to have an ancestor who's been on one or the other side of these relationships.