Today, politicians pay big bucks to hire political analysts and consultants to advise them and to improve their public image in hopes of making themselves a more electable candidate. In 1860, fifteen months before the presidential election, candidate Abraham Lincoln received a bit of free advice that changed his image in the public eye. The advice came in the form of a letter from an eleven ear old girl from Westfield, New York. She 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
President Lincoln responded to little Miss Bedell’s letter:
Springfield, Ill Oct 19, 1860
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 -As to the whiskers have never worn any do you not think people would call it a silly affriction if I were to begin it now?:Your very sincere well wisher
As evident from Mr Lincoln’s reply, he made no promise to Miss Bedell. Shortly after his election, the President-Elect was making his way by train to Washington, D.C., a journey that took him through Westfield, New York. When the train came to a stop, thousands had gathered to get a glimpse of the newly elected leader of the nation. The President-elect had one request of the crowd. He inquired if a young lady named Grade Bedell was in the crowd. According to the February 19, 1861 edition of the New York World, the crowd at first was silent. But then a commotion caused by a man struggling to make his way through the crowd began. It was Mr. Bedell leading his little daughter through the audience gathered to see Mr. Lincoln.
Once Mr. Bedell and little Grace had reached Mr. Lincoln, the President-elect stooped down to her level and kissed the child. For a short period of time, Grace had the undivided attention of this very busy man.
For over a hundred years, the world did not know if Mr. Lincoln and Miss Bedell ever had any more contact. However, in 2007, a letter from Miss Bedell to President Lincoln dated 1864 was discovered by a researcher. The fifteen year old’s letter was appealing to the President for help in securing a job in the Treasury Department. The text of the letter discloses what drove her to write to Mr. Lincoln a second time.
After a great deal of forethought on the subject I have concluded to address you, asking your aid in obtaining a situation, Do you remember before your election receiving a letter from a little girl residing at Westfield in Chautauque Co. advising the wearing of whiskers as an improvement to your face. I am that little girl grown to the size of a woman. I believe in your answer to that letter you signed yourself. “Your true friend and well-wisher.” will you not show yourself my friend now. My Father during the last few years lost nearly all his property, and although we have never known want, I feel that I ought and could do something for myself. If I only knew what that “something” was. I have heard that a large number of girls are employed constantly and with good wages at Washington cutting Treasury notes and other things pertaining to that Department. Could I not obtain a situation ther?[sic] I know I could if you would exert your unbounded influences a word from you would secure me a good paying situation which would at least enable me to support myself if not to help my parents, this, at present – is my highest ambition. My parents are ignorant of this application to you for assistance. If you require proof of my family’s respectability. I can name persons here whose names may not be unknown to you. We have always resided here excepting the two years we were at Westfield. I have addressed one letter to you before, pertaining to this subject, but receiving no answer I chose rather to think you had failed to recieve[sic] it, not believing that your natural kindness of heart of which I have heard so much would prompt you to pass it by unanswered. Direct to this place.
Grace G. Bedell”
The first letter from the eleven year old girl became famous and was made the subject of a children’s story after the assassination of President Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth. Later a statue was erected in the center of Westfield, New york depicting the meeting of the two.
Following the Civil War at the age of 17, Miss Bedell married a veteran of the Union, a former teacher named George Newton Billings. The couple, like many of the day, chose to move westward. They made their home in Delphos, Kansas. The Billings had a son named Harlow.
While living out west, Grace lived the life of a pioneer, a rather primitive existence. They endured a life greatly affected by the weather. They suffered through floods that washed away crops and threatened their home. They lived in a region affected by tornadoes and were ever threatened with the threat of prairie fires and droughts. In addition, Grace had to worry about Indian raids. As prairie settlers, they also had to deal with the plagues of grasshoppers.
When little Grace wrote her letter to the President-elect, she spoke of her inability to vote. Her move to Kansas took her even deeper into a male dominated world. She continued to live out her days in Delphos until her death in 1936.
The home of the couple still stands and was chosen as one of Kansas’s most endangered historic sites.
In 1966, Grace’s memory was honored with the erection of a monument in the city’s town square.