Happy birthday to Italian Futurist painter Gino Severini (1883–1966). Italian Futurism celebrated the speed, fragmentation, and sensory overload of modern cities. This effervescent painting of a young hatmaker strolling in the street was included in the first Futurist exhibition in Paris, held in February 1912. It conveys a sense of whirling motion through a combination of shifting planes of color and repeated elements of the hatmaker’s figure.

La Modiste (The Milliner),” 1910–11, by Gino Severini (© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome)


Never know what you’ll find “Behind the Scenes” at the Dibner Library for the History of Science and Technology! Written by former slave and modiste to Mary Todd Lincoln, Elizabeth Keckley, the book’s full title is “Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House.” Keckley was played by actress Gloria Reuben in 2012’s Lincoln.
We haven’t digitized our copy, but UNC-Chapel Hill has, if you’d like to read it (do!)


Mary Lincoln’s purple velvet skirt and daytime bodice are believed to have been made by African-American dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley

The Dress  was worn by Mrs. Lincoln during the 1861-62 Washington winter social season. Smithsonian photo by Hugh Talman. 

Elizabeth Keckley was an incredible businesswoman and was also known for her beauty. In her memoir, she recalls that people thought she was beautiful. The Washington Bee, the African American newspaper, treated her like a black socialite within the African-American community. She dressed well—she was not gaudy or showy, but more pared down and refined. She was known for being elegant, upright and appropriate—the Victorian ideal.

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley (sometimes spelled Keckly; 1818 – 1907) was a former slave who became a successful seamstress

A civil activist and author in Washington DC. She was best known as the personal modiste and confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln the First Lady. Keckley had moved to Washington in 1860 after buying her freedom and that of her son in St. Louis. She created an independent business in the capital based on clients who were the wives of the government elite. Among them were Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis, and Mary Anna Custis, wife of Robert E. Lee.

After the American Civil War, Keckley wrote and published an autobiography, Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House (1868). It was both a slave narrative and a portrait of the First Family, especially Mary Todd Lincoln, and considered controversial for breaking privacy about them. It was also her claim as a businesswoman to be part of the new mixed-race, educated middle-class that were visible among the leadership of the black community.

Keckley’s relationship with Mary Todd Lincoln, the President’s wife, was notable for its personal quality and intimacy, as well as its endurance over time.

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