How An 11-Year-Old Girl Influenced Abraham Lincoln to Grow His Beard


President Abraham Lincoln is known for his many groundbreaking political moves that changed the face of America. As the 16th President of the United States, he is remembered for abolishing slavery, leading the Union to victory in the Civil War, and issuing other transformational policies.

He is also known for one more thing — his iconic beard.

His distinguished look appears on the US $5 bill, and many people can easily identify him by his picture. His appearance was memorable, as was his impact on the nation.

President Lincoln’s historic beard and appearance didn’t happen just by chance. In fact, an 11-year-old girl may have had a lot to do with how President Lincoln presented himself. Some argue that she may have even impacted his election win.

Young Grace Bedell wrote Lincoln a letter on October 15, 1860, only a few weeks before he was elected President. She urged him to grow a beard because she believed it would improve his chances of winning. She explained that since he had a narrow face, a beard would look much more appealing and would encourage people to believe in him as their president.

Grace Bedell’s letter to Abraham Lincoln. Courtesy: Detroit Public Library, Burton Historical Collection and the Benjamin Shapell Family Manuscript Foundation

She wrote:

My father has just home from the fair and brought home your picture and Mr. Hamlin’s. I am a little girl only eleven years old, but want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you wont think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are. Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell her to write to me if you cannot answer this letter. I have got 4 brothers 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. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President. My father is going to vote for you and if I was a man I would vote for you too but I will try and get every one to vote for you that I can. I think that rail fence around your picture makes it look very pretty. I have got a little baby sister she is nine weeks old and is just as cunning as can be. When you direct your letter direct to Grace Bedell Westfield Chatauque County New York. I must not write any more answer this letter right off Good bye. Grace Bedell

Abraham Lincoln, 1860

Lincoln received Grace’s letter and personally responded to her on October 19, 1860:

President Lincoln’s response to Grace Bedell. Courtesy: Detroit Public Library, Burton Historical Collection and the Benjamin Shapell Family Manuscript Foundation

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, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now? Your very sincere well-wisher
A. Lincoln

Shortly after their exchange, Lincoln began to grow facial hair and by the time he was elected, he had a full beard. On the way to his 1861 inauguration, he stopped in Westfield, New York to meet his pen pal, Grace. According to her, he shook her hand and said, “You see? I let these whiskers grow for you.”

Abraham Lincoln, 10 days before his inauguration

In the MyHeritage Newspaper collectionIn Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, 1836-1922,” on SuperSearch™, we found an incredible article written in the Fremont Journal on February 22, 1861, about Lincoln’s meeting with young Grace.

MyHeritage Newspaper collection, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, 1836-1922, Fremont Journal, Ohio, USA, Feb 22 1861

The newspaper article reads:

At the close of his speech [Mr. Lincoln] said: “During the campaign last Fall I received a letter from this place — and a very pretty letter it was too. It was written by a young girl whose name, if I remember rightly, was Bedell. Among many other things in that letter was a recommendation that I should let my whiskers grow, and it would improve my appearance. It was partly from that suggestion that I have done so. If that young lady is in this crowd I should very much like to see her.” An exceedingly pretty young girl, probably about fourteen or fifteen years old, was at once pointed out by bystanders, and a passage was soon cleared for her. She came forward, modestly. Mr. Lincoln stepped down from the car, advanced to meet her, and gave her a couple of hearty kisses.

Grace’s suggested whiskers became one of Lincoln’s defining features. To this day, he is remembered for both his political actions — and his beard.

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  • Sherry L. Moore

    January 12, 2018

    My grandmother was considered a “bastard” child. Her mother (my great grandmother) was called Aunt Billie (Wilhelmina). My great-great grandmother was married 3 times. The family rumor was that it was one of those husbands impregnated Aunt Billie. I have no way to get back past this family shame and am not very good at this genealogy stuff but, have tried.