When we think of the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, the classic image that enters our minds is probably the iconic stovepipe hat, sunken cheeks, hairless top lip and distinguishing dark beard.
But, actually, during much of Lincoln’s 1860 presidential campaign, he was completely clean-shaven and had been so his entire life. So what prompted the face fuzz?
Rather charmingly, he had received a letter in October from an 11-year-old girl named Grace Bedell who’d cheekily recommended: “let your whiskers grow… [as] you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin”. This, she thought, would better woo the ladies, who would then convince their husbands to vote for him. Kindly, Lincoln responded: “As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a silly affectation if I were to begin it now?”
A presidential look
This seemed to be a gentle ‘thanks-but-no-thanks’, and yet – within a month – the gangly politician had sprouted his now-celebrated beard.
In truth, it’s hard to imagine that a bit of facial hair influenced the election result, but Grace Bedell’s suggestion undoubtedly made Lincoln one of the most instantly recognisable, and therefore iconic, men in American history, and – perhaps to say thank you – the new President made sure to meet Grace in person when he visited her home town of Westfield, New York, in 1861.