Detroit Holds the History of Lincoln’s Beard

Nov 30, 2012

The month of November is almost over and many men have participated in “No Shave November” or “Movember.” In the spirit of these facial hair fanatics, and the release of the critically acclaimed movie “Lincoln,” you might find it interesting to know that the history of Abraham Lincoln’s beard is housed in Detroit Public Library’s Burton Historical Collection.

Grab a tissue and get your “aww’s” ready. Here’s a cute story that will warm even the most Grinch-y hearts.

The campaign poster that inspired Bedell’s request.

In 1860, after seeing a picture of Abraham Lincoln on a campaign poster, 11-year-old Grace Bedell wrote to him and suggested he grow a beard. She thought it would help him get elected. Though Lincoln wrote a friendly response to her letter, he didn’t initially agree to her request. But, as it turns out, Lincoln stopped shaving, grew a beard, and was later elected president (no doubt thanks to his political plans as well as his facial hair).

On Lincoln’s inaugural train ride from Illinois to Washington, D.C., he stopped in Bedell’s town to meet her. According to Bedell, Lincoln told her that he grew the “whiskers” for her.

“Mr. Lincoln stooped down and kissed the child, and talked with her for some minutes. Her advice had not been thrown away upon the rugged chieftain. A beard of several months’ growth covers (perhaps adorns) the lower part of his face. The young girl’s peachy cheek must have been tickled with a stiff whisker, for the growth of which she was herself responsible.” – February 19, 1861, edition of the New York World

A statue of Lincoln meeting Bedell in Westfield, N.Y.

The original letter young Grace Bedell wrote to Abraham Lincoln is part of the Burton Historical Collection of the Detroit Public Library. If you have the time, or took part in “No Shave November,” you should stop by and take a look at this charming piece of facial hair history in the heart of Detroit.

For the full text of the letters regarding Lincoln’s beard, check out the Wikipedia article on Grace Bedell.

– Jennifer

Have you seen the movie “Lincoln”? Did you take part in November’s facial hair fun? What other interesting and relatively unknown pieces of history are in Detroit? Let us know in the comment section below! 

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