The Merriweather Home for Children (then known as the National Home for Destitute Colored Women and Children) was the final home of Elizabeth Keckly, a dressmaker and author of a "serve and tell" memoir, Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House (1868). The home was established in 1863 by an Act of Congress and was administered by the National Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Women and Children. Keckly was one of its founding members.
The first home was located in a Georgetown residence abandoned by its white owner during the Civil War. In 1866 it moved to Eighth Street, NW, near the original northern boundary of the city.
In 1892 Congress withdrew its support for the institution, placing the home in jeopardy. Mary Robinson Meriwether, an Oberlin College graduate who taught at the Preparatory High School for Negro Youth, was chiefly responsible for saving the home. One of the few women of color serving on the association's board of directors, she appealed to Congress to continue its support. She would later become president of the organization. The home moved to 733 Euclid Street, NW, in 1932, and reduced its services to supporting children only. By the early 1950s, the home was renamed the Meriwether Home for Children to honor Meriwether's success in keeping the enterprise going. (The spelling of her name has changed over time.)
Elizabeth Keckly (ca. 1818-1907) was born Elizabeth Hobbs and enslaved in Dinwiddle Court House, Virginia. Relying on her skills as a seamstress, she purchased her freedom and that of her son. She moved to Washington, DC in 1860. Here she first worked for Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis's wife, among other elite white women. (Jefferson Davis would later become president of the Confederacy.) Her longest association was with Mary Todd Lincoln. She became Lincoln's close companion, dressmaker, and personal attendant.
In 1862 Keckly co-founded and served as president of the Ladies' Contraband Relief Association organized to assist new migrants to the city. Part of these efforts of Keckly and other black women led to the founding of the Home for Destitute Colored Women and Children.
Keckly's 1868 memoir covered her experiences with, and observations of, President and Mrs. Lincoln. Mary Todd Lincoln was disturbed by Keckly's revelations and ended their friendship. The controversy surrounding the book led to Keckly's own need for financial assistance. She moved to the Merriweather Home, where she died of a stroke.
Keckly was buried in Columbian Harmony Cemetery in DC, but later re-interred at National Harmony Memorial Park in Largo, Maryland. Her grave remained unmarked until May 2009, when the National Harmony Memorial Park, The Surratt Society, Black Women United for Action, the Lincoln Forum, and the Ford's Theatre Society joined to provide a headstone.
NOTE: Elizabeth Keckly's name often was spelled "Keckley" by publishers.