An eleven year old girl wrote to the Republican candidate for president in 1860. She had just seen his picture and had a bit of advice for him: he should grow a beard!
“You would look a great deal better for your face is so thin,” reasoned Grace Bedell. But this was not merely a cosmetic suggestion, it would yield political results. “All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husband’s to vote for you and then you would be President,” she wrote.
On this date in 1860, Lincoln replied to his young admirer. “As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now?” Lincoln asked.
Four months later, as the president-elect made his way to Washington, he stopped in Westfield, New York to deliver a brief speech. A reporter captured the event:
At Westfield, Mr. LINCOLN greeted a large crowd of ladies, and several thousand of the sterner sex. Addressing the ladies, he said, ``I am glad to see you; I suppose you are to see me; but I certainly think I have the best of the bargain. (Applause.) Some three months ago, I received a letter from a young lady here; it was a very pretty letter, and she advised me to let my whiskers grow, as it would improve my personal appearance; acting partly upon her suggestion, I have done so; and now, if she is here, I would like to see her; I think her name was Miss BARLLY.'' A small boy, mounted on a post, with his mouth and eyes both wide open, cried out, ``there she is, Mr. LINCOLN,'' pointing to a beautiful girl, with black eyes, who was blushing all over her fair face. The President left the car, and the crowd making way for him, he reached her, and gave her several hearty kisses, and amid the yells of delight from the excited crowd, he bade her good-bye, and on we rushed.
Of course, either Lincoln or the reporter got the name wrong. Miss Barlly was indeed Grace Bedell and she met Lincoln, now with a set of fresh whiskers.
Today there is a statue (pictured above) in Westfield, New York that depicts this meeting.
Grace went on to live a full life. She married a Union veteran, had children of her own, and died in 1936 at the ripe old age of 87.
For those of you who have children, you may want to check out one of the many books that depict this story:
Mr. Lincoln’s Whiskers by Karen B. Winnick is intended for children ages 4 to 8:
Grace’s Letter to Lincoln by Peter and Connie Roop and Stacey Schuett is intended for children ages 9 to 12:
Lincoln’s Little Girl by Fred Trump is also intended for children ages 9 to 12: