The little girl who told
Abe Lincoln to grow a beard
“All the ladies like whiskers.”
Springfield, Illinois — Early portrait of Abraham Lincoln.
He would look better if he wore whiskers,
and I mean to write and tell him so.
11-YEAR-OLD GRACE BEDELL TO HER MOTHER, 1860
Abraham Lincoln became president of the United States in October 1860 at the age of 51. But a few weeks earlier he had been judged unequal to the task by 11-year-old Grace Bedell. Young Grace wrote to Lincoln pointing out what was, in her eyes, a serious defect: his lack of facial hair.
Half figure seated portrait of Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth president of the United States.
Oct. 15, 1860
Grace Bedell’s letter to Abraham Lincoln.
IMAGE: DETROIT PUBLIC LIBRARY, BURTON HISTORICAL COLLECTION
You would look a great deal better 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.
FROM GRACE BEDELL’S LETTER TO ABRAHAM LINCOLN, OCT. 15, 1860
Lincoln wrote back to Grace in the letter below.
(Some experts believe the letter’s spots are from snowflakes landing on the paper, as Grace hurriedly read the letter on her way home from the local post office.)
Oct. 19, 1860
Abraham Lincoln to Grace Bedell.
IMAGE: BENJAMIN SHAPELL FAMILY MANUSCRIPT FOUNDATION
Having never worn any whiskers, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin?
FROM LINCOLN’S REPLY TO GRACE BEDELL, OCT. 19, 1860
Beardstown, Illinois — Believed to be one of the last photos made before Lincoln grew a beard.
Less than a month after receiving Grace’s letter, Lincoln had a beard.
Nov. 25, 1860
The first photograph to show Lincoln’s beard.
IMAGE: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
On his inaugural train journey from Illinois to Washington D.C., Lincoln stopped in Westfield, New York (Grace’s hometown) and asked to meet her.
There was a momentary commotion, in the midst of which an old man, struggling through the crowd, approached, leading his daughter. 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. The young girl’s peachy cheek must have been tickled with a stiff whisker.
EDITION OF THE NEW YORK WORLD, FEB. 19, 1861
Nov. 8, 1863
“Gracie,” he said, “look at my whiskers. I have been growing them for you.” Then he kissed me.
I never saw him again.
In 2009, almost 150 years later, a Liz Bedell, then a 23-year-old staff member in the U.S. House of Representatives, was exploring the Library of Congress’ Lincoln bicentennial exhibition. She saw the original letter from Grace, and Lincoln’s reply, in a display case.
In the exhibition’s visitor log, she wrote: “I cried my eyes out when I saw the letter from Grace Bedell to Abe Lincoln — she’s my great-great aunt, and I grew up with the story not really believing it.”
“In fifth grade, I wanted to be president of the United States. My Grandpa used to tell me, ‘You can do anything you want. You can be president. Why, just look at your great-great aunt Grace Bedell. She couldn’t vote, but she put pen to paper.’”
LIZ BEDELL, 2009