The True Story of Abraham Lincoln’s Beard

By Maureen A. Taylor

Abraham Lincoln, 1858, Library of Congress

The story of Abraham Lincoln’s beard is a sweet one. In 1860, a young girl named Grace Bedell wrote to the thenpresidential candidate, advising him to grow a beard to aid his campaign and his appearance.

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 yet got four 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. “

Lincoln responded that he wouldn’t make any promises yet a few months later he’s photographed with the beginnings of his trademark facial hair.

1860, Library of Congress

Lincoln was the first President to have a beard.

1863 at Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner’s studio, Library of Congress.

It’s a remarkable tale of how a preteen may have influenced a political candidate’s appearance (and perhaps his career). Lincoln’s beard made his a fashion icon of the 19th century and led many men to follow his lead. You can see more male fashion trendsetters in Hairstyles 1840-1900.

Many books are written about Lincoln, but two of my favorites focus on photographs of him:

  • Lincoln Photographs: A Complete Album by Lloyd Ostendorf (Rockwood Press, 1998)
  • Lincoln Life-Size by Philip B. Kunhardt III, Peter W. Kunhardt and Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009).

Online sources of pictures of Lincoln include the Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division and the Allen County Public Library’s Lincoln Collection.

Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now