Elizabeth Keckley began working at the White House on 5 March 1861 as the personal dresser and modiste of the First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln.
Keckley was born a slave in Virginia, 1818. She collected money to buy her freedom and was manumitted in 1855. As a free black, she moved to Washington and worked as a seamstress and designer.
In 1862 Keckley founded a relief organization to support recently freed slaves and black soldiers.
In her autobiography Behind the Scenes (1868) Keckley described her rise from slavery to the White House. The book was considered an intrusion on the privacy of mrs Lincoln and the mode of living of Keckleys white clients. After the publication, Keckley earned her money by teaching young women her sewing techniques, while much of her white clientele stopped calling.