Abe’s Beard

Lincoln by Brady, 1860

Abraham Lincoln by Mathew Brady, February 27, 1860

I had no idea there was a story behind Abraham Lincoln’s beard. Being a photo archivist, I knew that the well-documented photographs of Lincoln were usually noted as “with beard” or “without beard” though I didn’t think much of it. But while preparing a presentation of Lincoln’s life in photographs, I gained a bit of insight…

As it turns out, Abraham Lincoln had always been clean shaven during his time as an Illinois Congressman, Lawyer, and even most of his time as a Presidential Candidate. It wasn’t until he received a letter in October of 1860, the month before general election, that he decided to grow a beard. The letter was from an 11-year-old girl named Grace Bedell from upstate New York, who wrote:

“I have got 4 brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you will let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote, for 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.”

Lincoln with short beard

Abraham Lincoln photographed November 25, 1860

Lincoln’s response to Miss Bedell would lead one to believe that he might brush off the advice: “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?” But, as it would turn out, Lincoln began growing out his facial hair soon after and was photographed on November 25th 1860 with the beginnings of his famous beard.

Come see the travelling exhibit “Lincoln: the Constitution and the Civil War” in the Ekstrom Library and view the slide show “Abraham Lincoln’s Life in Photographs” on the adjacent kiosk. This exhibit will be up in the Ekstrom Library, East Wing main floor until April 8th.

Lincoln, 1861

Abraham Lincoln photographed by Christopher German, 1861

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