Author Date


Degree Name



Theatre and Media Arts


Fine Arts and Communications

Defense Date


Publication Date


First Faculty Advisor

George Nelson

First Faculty Reader

Shelley Graham

Honors Coordinator

Dean Duncan


black, civil rights, musical, play, Elizabeth Keckley, Abraham Lincoln


Hard to Be Won is a musical adaptation of a memoir by Elizabeth Keckly, a black woman of considerable success who earned the confidence of Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary, in war-torn 1860s America. My adaptation of this story showcases a new perspective: that of Elizabeth herself. Despite her memoir narrating these events in her own voice, Elizabeth as an individual has been largely ignored or misrepresented in modern, idealistic, and racially ignorant retellings and criticism. Elizabeth as a token black person in the narrative of the Lincoln household cannot stand as representation of this woman’s legacy when she was responsible for so much good. The founding of a relief association, schools, and her own work as a university professor in her later years deserve to shine as the successes they were. Alongside this, to avoid the deification of Elizabeth as a historical figure (as has happened with Abraham Lincoln), Hard to Be Won elaborates on her struggles, pain, and capacity for the love of others. Featuring music inspired by 60’s jazz, traditional slave songs, and contemporary Gospel music, Hard to Be Won evokes movement and strikes the soul.

This manuscript is accompanied by a forward further discussing the purpose of the script and the research conducted to justify it as a valid interpretation of the source material.