By Debby Woodin
PITTSBURG, Kan. — An alumna of Pittsburg State University who is a historical researcher will unveil the contents of a recently discovered letter written to Abraham Lincoln by his “little correspondent” next week.
The second letter to Lincoln from Grace Bedell, the girl who encouraged Lincoln to grow a beard in 1860 before his election as president, will be revealed in a ceremony at 11 a.m. Monday at PSU.
The alumna is Karen Needles, of Washington, D.C. She has been working for six years as a researcher for the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill. She also operates an online service for locating historical documents at www.documentsonwheels.com.
Bedell became known as “Lincoln’s little correspondent” when, at age 11, she wrote to the presidential candidate.
“She wrote a letter in 1860 saying he would look more statesmanlike if he wore a beard,” said John Lupton, associate director for the papers of Lincoln at the Lincoln Presidential Library.
At first, Lincoln didn’t take to the idea. He wrote back to the girl and told her it might be regarded as “silly” for him to grow whiskers after not having had them for many years.
But, by the time Lincoln took a train to Washington, D.C., to be sworn into office only a few months after receiving her letter, he sported a full beard.
During that trip to the capital, Lincoln stopped in Bedell’s hometown in upstate New York, near Buffalo. He asked for the girl who wrote the letter to step forward from a crowd of well-wishers at the train stop, and he hugged her, Lupton said.
That part of the story was made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie in 1953 and is a topic in some books. But, it was not the last time Lincoln heard from the girl.
Lupton said Needles found another letter from Bedell to Lincoln written about four years later, in 1864, that has been stored in the National Archives. The contents of that letter, discovered in March, have not been made public, but Lupton said the writing has to do with the girl searching for a job and hoping Lincoln can arrange to put her to work in the U.S. Treasury.
The researchers found no evidence that Lincoln replied to Bedell, and no Treasury Department employment records were found for her. A third letter from Bedell asking Lincoln why he didn’t reply also was found, Lupton said.
But, at that time, Lincoln was steeped in duty and worry with the Civil War.
The girl wasn’t of legal age for hiring, Lupton said, though she may have been trying to earn money for her family.
Bedell eventually married and, as an adult, moved to Kansas with her husband, George Billings, who served as a sergeant in the Civil War. They moved to Delphos, Kan., where she died in 1936 at age 87.
Needles is traveling this week in Kansas, in part to visit Delphos, where the house that Grace Bedell Billings shared with her husband is now for sale. Needles will return to Pittsburg later this week for Monday’s ceremony, said Cassie Mathes, assistant director of public relations at PSU.
More on the letters exchanged between Grace Bedell and Abraham Lincoln over her suggestion that he grow a beard, including the second letter that is to be part of the PSU ceremony, can be found online at www.lincolnarchives.us/content/features/grace_home.htm.
By Debby Woodin
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