In Honor of the 150th Anniversary of the Famous Letter from Grace Bedell to Abraham Lincoln of Oct. 15, 1860, from Westfield, N.Y. ...
Sixty years before American women received the right to vote, Grace Bedell, a school girl of 11 years old, living in Westfield, wrote her now-famous letter to Abraham Lincoln, Oct. 15, 1860, urging him to grow whiskers to attract the attention of the ladies who would then encourage their husbands to vote for him.
The text of her letter to Lincoln reads:
Westfield Chatauque Co
Oct. 15, 1860
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 eleven 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 will 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 a going to vote for you and if I was a man I would vote for you to but I will try and 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 dirct to Grace Bedell Westfield Chatauque County New York
I must not write any more answer this letter right off Good bye
One amazing part of this story is that Abraham Lincoln, busily campaigning for election as President of the United States, took the time to read, reply to, and actually grow a beard in response to an 11-year-old girl living in a small rural village in Western New York State.
Another amazing aspect of the story is that the Bedell family was only resident in Westfield for less than two years, their hometown being Albion, NY, where they lived for over 40 years, except for 1859-1861. Grace’s father, Norman Bedell, had partnered with Richard Berry in a stove-making company, producing 20 cast-iron cooking ranges per day in their foundry next to the Erie Canal, in 1851. By the mid 1850s, the railroads, some distant from the canal, started providing a faster means of shipping products, especially to the west, so the company expanded and involved several of Norman’s sons.
The 1850s were a time of national political turmoil, particularly regarding the slavery issue. Norman Bedell was a staunch abolitionist, so Grace Bedell, born in 1848, was exposed to heated political discussions in the large family as she was growing up. (Grace’s parents produced a total of 11 children, one of whom died in infancy before Grace was born, and two born after her.) The political controversy extended even into the churches, and the Albion Methodist Episcopal Church, which the Bedell family attended, was split into two separate churches by the turmoil by 1859, causing disharmony within the Bedell household. About this time, father Norman Bedell was offered a new opportunity to extend his stove-making knowledge and experience, to assist a large stove works on the banks of Chautauqua Creek in Westfield. This provided an opportunity to get out of the family dilemma, so Norman left an older son, and son-in-law in charge of the Albion company, rented out their Albion house, packed up, and moved his wife, Grace, five of her siblings, and one sibling’s wife and baby to Westfield in October of 1859, just before Grace’s 11th birthday.
The Bedells rented a house owned by Alfred Couch at 36 Washington Street, Westfield NY, which is still standing today (October 2010). This house was built in 1821, so was older than the Bedell house in Albion. Nearby was the home of Thomas Macomber, a carriage and sleigh maker, and one of Westfield’s staunchest abolitionists. Macomber’s daughter, Jennie, became one of Grace’s friends, and later wrote a letter describing the events of the day in February, 1861, that president-elect Lincoln stopped at the Westfield train station on his inaugural journey to Washington, D.C. and asked to meet the young lady who had inspired him to grow his whiskers.
Soon after Lincoln’s February 1861 inauguration, Fort Sumter was attacked by Confederates, and the Civil War began in April 1861. Three days into the war, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers, and Grace Bedell watched as Westfield men responded, trained, and formed Company C, in response. In July, Grace’s father, Norman Bedell, completed his job at the stove works in Westfield, so the family returned to Albion NY, where Grace continued her schooling, met and married George Billings, and eventually moved out west to spend most of their lives in Delphos, Kansas.
In the 1990s, the late Billie Dibble, then Westfield Historian supported the suggestion of Dr. Kent Brown that the community of Westfield join together to memorialize the meeting of Grace Bedell and Abraham Lincoln at the old train station in Westfield. They chose a sculptor, Don Sottile, a Westfield native, and he created a larger than life size pair of statues that are the centerpiece of the Lincoln-Bedell Park at the corner of Main and Portage streets in Westfield.