As a young boy, I grew up in Illinois, Lincoln country. I was fascinated by the 16th President and read everything about him that I could get my hands. I even have the complete collection of Sandberg’s Lincoln and have read it through twice.
One of the things that most fascinated me about Lincoln was the fact that he grew up poor. His first store bought toy was a wooden wagon his dad bought for him when he was only 8-years-old. From his humble and poor beginnings, he ended up to become President of the United States. He was never rich but his humble nature was offset by his tenacity in acting on what he firmly believed in.
Abraham Lincoln stood 6’4” and never weighed more than 175 pounds. He was often described as being tall and gangly. Some even said he looked gaunt for his height.
In 1830, at the age of 21, Lincoln and his entire family contracted malaria after just arriving in Illinois.
In 1835, Lincoln had his second bout with malaria and was so sick that he was housed in a neighbor’s house where he was heavily medicated and allowed to recover.
In 1863, Lincoln travelled to Pennsylvania to commemorate all of the brave soldiers who fought and died at the Battle of Gettysburg. Shortly after giving that address, Lincoln contracted smallpox. The disease was enough to often alter his daily routine when he was living in the White House.
Many historians and medical professionals believed that Abraham Lincoln also suffered from a genetic disorder known as Marfan Syndrome. The genetic disorder often is characterized by (but not always), long arms, legs and fingers, being tall and thin, curved spine, chest sinks in or sticks out, very flexible joints, flat feet, crowded teeth and stretch marks in the skin unrelated to gaining or losing weight. Lincoln was tall thin, had very long arms, large hands, a slight curvature of the spine and was known to be quite flexible.
Whether or not Lincoln had Marfan syndrome, he was tall and thin and did look gaunt.
On this day, October 15, 1860, during Lincoln’s presidential campaign, an 11-year-old girl by the name of Grace Bedell wrote Lincoln telling him that his face was too thin and that if he grew whiskers he would look better and more people would vote for him. Young Grace wrote:
“Hon A B Lincoln…
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 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 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 Chautauqua County New York.
I must not write any more answer this letter right off Good bye
On October 19, 1860, after receiving Grace’s letter, Lincoln wrote to her saying:
“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 affectation if I were to begin it now?
Your very sincere well wisher,
Note that Lincoln never promised her he would grow his whiskers, but it was very soon after receiving her letter that Lincoln began growing his beard. Most of us are used to seeing the presidential photos of Lincoln with his beard, but up until the time of receiving the letter from young Grace Bedell, he never had a beard.
Grace Bedell was born in Westfield, New York on November 4, 1848. Westfield is a small town along the bank of Lake Erie in the southwest corner of the state.
On February 16, 1861, Lincoln made a stop in Westfield, New York for the sole purpose of meeting Grace Bedell and showing her his whiskers.
Later on, Grace married George Newton Billings, a Civil War veteran and moved to Delphos, Kansas. The Billings had one child and Grace lived to the ripe old age of 87, dying just 2 days before her 88th birthday.
On August 8, 1966, a memorial was made to Grace Bedell in the Delphos town square.
In 1999, a monument to Lincoln and Bedell was placed in Westfield, New York.
Had it not been for young Grace Bedell’s bold letter, chances are Abraham Lincoln would never have grown his beard and every image we have of him would be quite different.
Sources for the above includes: Letter to Grace Bedell; Abraham Lincoln meets Grace Bedell; The Advice of a Little Girl; The Super Cute Story Behind Abraham Lincoln’s Beard; Grace Bedell; Grace Bedell; The Girl Who Grew Lincoln’s Beard; Did Abraham Lincoln Have Marfan Syndrome?; Did Abraham Lincoln Have a Genetic Mutation?; Disease May Have Caused Lincoln’s ‘Clumsy Gait’; What is Marfan Syndrome?