Grace Greenwood Bedell has an unusual place in American history. As an 11-year-old girl living in Westfield, New York, Grace decided that one of the candidates running for president in 1860 would look better with facial hair. So she wrote to Abraham Lincoln, telling him that he “would look a great deal better” if he grew a beard. The former frontier lawyer thought about it, telling Grace in his return letter that he worried people might think that growing a beard during the campaign was a “silly affectation.” Lincoln eventually decided to give it a try, and by his inauguration in January 1861, he was sporting a full beard, a look that has been iconic ever since.
Back when a beard meant something:
- On his way to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration, Lincoln stopped in Westfield to meet his young pen pal. “You see?” he told her, “I let these whiskers grow for you.”
- The meeting spawned a popular children’s story after Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in 1865. A statue depicting their meeting still stands in Westfield.
- Grace Bedell later married a veteran of the Union Army and moved to Kansas, where she lived for the remainder of her life, dying two days before her 88th birthday in 1936.