‘Ladies Like Whiskers,’ A Girl Wrote to Lincoln

Library of Congress Shows President’s Relics

Posted February 11, 2009 at 4:18pm

In 1860, Grace Bedell, an 11-year-old living in Westfield, N.Y., wrote a letter to Abraham Lincoln, a lawyer from Illinois who was running for president. Grace had a little campaign advice: Lincoln should grow a beard.

“All the ladies like whiskers, and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President,” she wrote.

Grace’s father was “a staunch Republican” like Lincoln, she remembered later, and she was embarrassed for Lincoln when her classmates made fun of his personal appearance.

In his reply, Lincoln questioned whether it would be dishonest to change his appearance, but a month later, he began growing a beard. On the train ride to his inauguration, he stopped for a rally in Grace’s hometown and greeted the little girl with a prickly kiss on her cheek.

At the Library of Congress’ “With Malice Toward None” exhibit, visitors can see Grace’s letter and Lincoln’s response side by side. The two letters were borrowed from separate collections for the exhibit, which opens tonight.

In a dimly lit U-shaped path, visitors work their way through Lincoln’s adult life, starting with his time as a traveling lawyer and closing with the investigation of his death.

For example, one spread shows the letters exchanged between Lincoln and Albert Hodges, editor of the Commonwealth, a newspaper in Kentucky. Hodges argued that Kentucky should be exempt from the principles laid out in the Emancipation Proclamation.

“Lincoln brought them around to his position, and they were so impressed they asked him to put it into writing,” explained John Sellers, curator for the exhibit.

Another glass display case protects items that were in Lincoln’s pockets the day that he was shot: his glasses, a $5 Confederate note, a wallet, a watch fob and a pen knife. An autopsy report written after Lincoln’s death has bloodstains from his head.

Two interactive displays are geared toward younger visitors, and a symbol marks descriptions written in simpler language for children to understand. The library is also reaching out to teachers who are planning units on Lincoln with one-day seminars in D.C. and with online resources.

When the exhibit leaves the LOC in May, it will continue on to museums in six other American cities, wrapping up in 2011. Included among them is the Atlanta History Center, the first museum in the Deep South to request a Lincoln exhibit, according to the Library.

The LOC will unveil “With Malice Toward None” from 5 to 9 p.m. tonight. Visitors can see the exhibit Monday through Saturday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., through May 9.