Upstairs at the White House: Mrs. Lincoln's Bedroom
Mrs. Lincoln's bedroom was the scene of both happy and intensely sad events, many of which were recorded by Elizabeth Keckley, who was hired as Mrs. Lincoln's dressmaker after she had interviewed several others. Mrs. Keckley remembered:
"I went up-stairs timidly, and entering the room with nervous step, discovered the wife of the President standing by a window, looking out, and engaged in lively conversation with a lady, Mrs. Grimsley, as I afterwards learned. Mrs. L. came forward, and greeted me warmly.
Mrs. Keckley was also witness to the interactions between Mrs. Lincoln and her husband as they dressed for social events. Just before he descended to a reception, for example, President Lincoln often turned to Mrs. Keckley and said: "Well, Madam Elizabeth, will you brush my bristles down tonight?"2 Although Mrs. Lincoln had her own social salon - primarily for male friends - she was very jealous of President Lincoln's interactions with women:
'Mrs. Lincoln's love for her husband sometimes prompted her to act very strangely. She was extremely jealous of him, and if a lady desired to court her displeasure, she could select no surer way to do it than to pay marked attention to the President. These little jealous freaks often were a source of perplexity to Mr. Lincoln. If it was a reception for which they were dressing, he would come into her room to conduct her down-stairs, and while pulling on his gloves ask, with a merry twinkle in his eyes:
When Elizabeth Keckley was first hired as Mrs. Lincoln's modiste, she made a dress for Mrs. Lincoln for a reception early in the Lincoln Administration. When she arrived at the White House, Mrs. Lincoln was in an uproar, refusing to go down because she could not possibly be ready. Mrs. Keckley volunteered to dress her and fix her hair:
"Mr. Lincoln came in, threw himself on the sofa, laughed with Willie and little Tad, and then commenced pulling on his gloves, quoting poetry all the while.
Mrs. Lincoln's bedroom had a particular importance for the Lincolns -given her predilection to debilitating illness and grief. She had long been afflicted by blinding headaches and other illnesses. It was here she spent the days after the death of her son Willie in 1862. He had often come to her room to read or write; Mrs. Lincoln was convinced that he would be "the hope and stay of her old age." 5 After Willie's death, Mrs. Lincoln seldom left her bedroom for several months. Indeed, she sometimes saw images of her deceased son there. Seamstress Elizabeth Keckley was the most frequent visitor to Mrs. Lincoln and she later wrote:
"In one of her paroxysms of grief the President kindly bent over his wife, took her by the arm, and gently led her to the window. With a stately, solemn gesture, he pointed to the lunatic asylum.
The last major social occasion for the Lincolns was the levee after inauguration on March 4, 1865. Mrs. Keckley described the preparations:
"This was Saturday, and on Monday evening I went to the White House to dress Mrs. Lincoln for the first grand levee. While arranging Mrs. L.'s hair, the President came in. It was the first time I had seen him since the inauguration, and I went up to him, proffering my hand with words of congratulation.