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It was the fall of 1860. Abraham Lincoln was the Republican nominee for president of the United States. Election Day was less than a month away. Mr. Lincoln, a lifelong beardless man, received a letter written by Grace Bedell, an 11-year-old girl from Westfield, New York. Written October 15th, 1860, the letter urged him to grow a beard. Unedited, Miss Bedell's letter read:
Hon A B Lincoln...

Dear Sir

My father has just home from the fair and brought home your picture and Mr. Hamlin's. I am a little girl only 11 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 brother's 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 husband's 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 to but I will try to 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

The Republican presidential nominee responded on October 19th. His letter to Grace Bedell read:


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

The rest is history. When Abraham Lincoln left Springfield on February 11th, 1861, bound for the White House, he was fully bearded. On February 16th the train stopped in Westfield, New York. The president-elect appeared on the train platform, and he called out for Grace. Grace was in the crowd with her two sisters, Alice and Helen. She came forth, Lincoln kissed her, and he said he took her advice. (The photograph to the left was taken in 1863 when Grace was 14; at the right is Grace in adulthood; the photograph in the center is Grace in her mid 60's.)
Today, the original of Grace's letter to Lincoln is in the Burton Historical Collection of the Detroit Public Library. In the early 1990's it was offered for sale at a price of $1,000,000. A private collector who wishes to remain anonymous owns Lincolnís letter to Grace.

When she was 17, Grace married George Billings, and the couple moved to Delphos, Kansas. Billings was a former Civil War sergeant. The couple had one child, Harlow Drake Billings, who was born on September 16, 1872. Grace passed away on Monday, November 2, 1936, two days prior to what would have been her 88th birthday. Both she and her husband are buried in the Delphos Cemetery. The text of her letter and Mr. Lincoln's reply are on a memorial that was dedicated in the town square on August 8, 1966. The Governor of Kansas, William H. Avery, presided over the dedication ceremonies. The text of the monument reads: "Delphos: the Home of Lincoln's Little Correspondent."

For more on Grace Bedell see Fred Trump's Lincoln's Little Girl: A True Story or Mr. Lincoln's Whiskers by Karen B. Winnick (for younger readers). They are both excellent books. The photographs of Grace as a young girl and in her later years came from Trump's book. The photograph of the middle aged Grace came from Life of Abraham Lincoln by Clifton M. Nichols.

In 2007 researcher Karen Needles found a second Grace Bedell letter to Lincoln. It was discovered in old Treasury Department documents at the National Archives. This letter, dated January 14, 1864, was a request for Lincoln's help as Grace was seeking employment in the Treasury Department. There is no record of any response by Lincoln; it is probable that the letter never reached his desk. For more details on this second letter, CLICK HERE.

In 1999 Westfield erected these statues to honor Abraham and Grace. The photographs were taken by Kieran McAuliffe and sent to me by Ed Steers. Thank you, Kieran and Ed!

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