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Owning UpPrivacy, Property, and Belonging in U.S. Women's Life Writing, 1840-1890$
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Katherine Adams

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195336801

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195336801.001.0001

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Freedom and Ballgowns

Freedom and Ballgowns

Elizabeth Keckley'S Executive Domesticity

Chapter:
(p.121) Chapter Four Freedom and Ballgowns
Source:
Owning Up
Author(s):

Katherine Adams (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195336801.003.0004

This chapter focuses on Elizabeth Keckley's Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House (1868), the autobiography of a woman who earned her own freedom from chattel slavery and became seamstress and confidante to First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. Analyzing Keckley's text and political writings on racial reconstruction, it traces a narrative in which privacy—representing the freedom and equality that are supposedly inherent entitlements of democratic individuality—is both threatened by racialized bodies and manifested by their elimination. The argument focuses on two interlocking privacy crises. The first of these, known as the old clothes scandal, concerns Lincoln's disastrous attempt to convert her own executive iconicity into personal profit by selling her White House wardrobe. The second arises with publication of Behind the Scenes in which, by detailing her role as producer of the executive spectacle, Keckley identifies the origins of national privacy—and the white freedoms it represents—with her own black labor. In public reactions to both of these crises, we witness how the threat of misappropriation enables the possession of democratic freedom.

Keywords:   Elizabeth Keckley, Mary Todd Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, White House, Reconstruction, domesticity, miscegenation

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