Common Experiences and Commitments


Elizabeth Keckley and Mary Lincoln's shared much in common. They were born in the same year, 1818, and spent their childhoods in the South. Both of them lost a son during the war. It was Elizabeth Keckley who nursed a grieving Mary Lincoln in the weeks that followed the death of 11 year old Willie Lincoln. Elizabeth Keckley simultaneously mourned the loss of her own son, who enlisted as a white soldier in the Union Army. The two women also came to share a fundamental political and moral commitment. The Todds of Kentucky were a slave owning family, and Mary saw many of her siblings and other relatives choose the Confederate side. She herself was suspected of Southern sympathies. But she and her husband both came to embrace emancipation as a necessary moral commitment of the nation. This image, taken prior to the Civil War, depicts the relationships white slave owners had with their black slaves as on of master and subordinate. The relationship Mary Todd Lincoln had with Elizabeth Keckley is unique because it stands in contrast to the slave/mistress relationships they may have been accustomed to growing up in the antebellum South.


Subjects unknown, quarter plate ambrotype, c. 1857-61. Collection of Greg French.