Anniversary: 150 years ago, a beard changed history

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 15: In 1860, a little girl’s letter changed American history as Grace Bedell’s note to Abraham Lincoln prompted him to grow whiskers. The letter arrived before the election and, at first, Lincoln declined to grow a beard. He wrote back to the girl: “As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly afectation if I were to begin now?”

Of course, we all know the outcome, especially if we’ve been watching PBS’s landmark “God in America” series this week—where President Lincoln’s bearded face was featured in prime time once again.

Later, Grace famously had a brief visit with Lincoln. But, her courage and creativity didn’t end there! Later, she wrote to Lincoln asking for a job—a letter only discovered in archives many years later.

It turns out that Grace has quite an active fan club keeping her memory alive. This year, to mark the 150th anniversary of her letter, a short film was produced, called “Grace Bedell,” telling the story of the little girl who changed Lincoln’s public image.

Eventually, Grace wound up marrying Union General George Newton Billings and moving westward to Kansas. According to the Grace Bedell Foundation: “She and George encountered floods, tornadoes, prairee fires … and more. They entertained a few famous and many more not so famous friends in their home.”

And—this month, October 2010—an effort is launching to preserve their home in Delphos, Kansas. This page within the Foundation site shows photos of the Bedell family in the 1800s and images of the home, today.

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