Behind the Scenes or, Thirty years a slave, and Four Years in the White House is an autobiography by Elizabeth Keckley that chronicles both her years as a slave in the South and her years as a dressmaker and confidante for Mary Todd Lincoln during Abraham Lincoln's presidency. Her memoir begins with her birth as a slave in Virginia and moves to buying her freedom from her master to the beginnings of her business as a dressmaker to her famous role as confidante of Mrs. Lincoln from the first presidential term to after the assassination. The autobiography includes revealing letters from Mrs. Lincoln to Mrs. Keckley in the appendix.
Elizabeth Keckley has received much attention lately, as actresses depicting her have appeared in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln and Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, but I like to retrieve information directly from the source, especially when the source is in the public domain. Behind the Scenes was extremely controversial at the time; Imagine if the best friend of our current First Lady were to write a memoir chronicling all of their personal conversations and then increase that intrigue based on the events of the Civil War and the presidential assassination.
Mrs. Keckley knew that writing such a novel would be the end of her personal relationship with Mrs. Lincoln, so she did not spare any detail. Interestingly, she was very forgiving to the character of Mr. Lincoln, but very strict with her supposed friend Mrs. Lincoln. Reading this autobiography made me deeply interested in Mrs. Keckley, and, although I would not want to be her friend, I was saddened when I researched her fate and found that she was buried in an unmarked grave in Maryland. For a woman who rose from a slave to the White House, she should have received more recognition.