“Grow a Beard, Mr. Lincoln, for Your Face Is So Thin”

“All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President”.

Grace Bedell in the 1870s

One hundred fifty-three years ago, on October 15, 1860, an eleven-year-old girl from Westfield, New York wrote a letter to presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln.  It was only a few weeks before the presidential election, and young Grace Bedell hoped that Lincoln would win.  She worried, though, that he was too thin, and that his gaunt appearance would cost him votes.  I have yet got four brothers,” Grace wrote, “and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin.”

Lincoln responded four days later, thanking her for her letter but making no promises.  Lincoln’s letter said:

Springfield, Ill Oct 19, 1860

Miss Grace Bedell

My dear little Miss

Your very agreeable letter of the 15th is received – I regret the necessity of saying I have no daughters – I have three sons – one seventeen, one nine, and one seven years of age. They, with their mother, constitute my whole family. As to the whiskers have never worn any do you not think people would call it a silly affection if I were to begin it now?

Your very sincere well wisher

A. Lincoln

But begin, he did.  Here is the last beardless photo of Lincoln, taken on August 13, 1860.

And just one month later, on November 25, 1860, the familiar beard was beginning to fill in.

This photo, from February 9, 1861, shows a bearded Lincoln. 

Ten days later, en route to the inauguration, Lincoln’s train passed through Westfield and he stopped to meet young Grace Bedell personally.  The New York World, a newspaper which ceased publication in 1931, carried the story of their meeting in its February 19, 1861 edition:

“At Westfield an interesting incident occurred. Shortly after his nomination Mr. Lincoln had received from that place a letter from a little girl, who urged him, as a means of improving his personal appearance, to wear whiskers. Mr. Lincoln at the time replied, stating that although he was obliged by the suggestion, he feared his habits of life were too fixed to admit of even so slight a change as that which letting his beard grow involved. To-day, on reaching the place, he related the incident, and said that if that young lady was in the crowd he should be glad to see her. There was a momentary commotion, in the midst of which an old man, struggling through the crowd, approached, leading his daughter, a girl of apparently twelve or thirteen years of age, whom he introduced to Mr. Lincoln as his Westfield correspondent. Mr. Lincoln stooped down and kissed the child, and talked with her for some minutes. Her advice had not been thrown away upon the rugged chieftain. A beard of several months’ growth covers (perhaps adorns) the lower part of his face. The young girl’s peachy cheek must have been tickled with a stiff whisker, for the growth of which she was herself responsible.”

Wikipedia reports Bedell’s recollection of the event years later:

“He climbed down and sat down with me on the edge of the station platform,” she recalled. “‘Gracie,’ he said, ‘look at my whiskers. I have been growing them for you.’ Then he kissed me. I never saw him again.” 

Grace’s story was retold in a children’s book and in a 2010 movie.  Her meeting with the future president has been commemorated with a statue of the encounter, which stands today in the town of Westfield, at the intersection of U.S. 20 and NY394.  Here, snipped from Google Maps, is a photo of that statue.

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