PITTSBURG, Kan. — With flowing script, 15-year-old Grace Bedell wrote a letter on Jan. 14, 1864, to President Lincoln, asking for a U.S. Treasury job.
“After a great deal of forethought on the subject, I have concluded to address you, asking for your aid in obtaining a situation,” Bedell wrote.
Karen Needles, a Pittsburg State University graduate who is a documents researcher based in Washington, D.C., revealed the letter during a presentation Monday at PSU.
The letter provides insight into the later life of Bedell, who has been called “Lincoln’s Little Correspondent.”
Bedell never got that job, Needles said. She speculated that Lincoln never saw the letter from the girl who was famous for her suggestion in a letter written during Lincoln’s campaign for president in 1860 that he grow a beard.
“I am that little girl grown to the size of a woman,” Bedell wrote. “I believe in your answer to that letter you signed yourself, ‘Your true friend and well-wisher.’ Will you not show yourself my friend now?”
“I think it’s tragic for both of them,” Needles said. “If she had gone to work there, who knows what would have happened in her life?”
The letter shows that Bedell wanted to support herself by working at the U.S. Treasury. Though she had “never known want,” she was eager to help ease a financial burden caused by her father’s loss of land.
“A word from you would secure me a good paying situation, which would at least enable me to support myself if not to help my parents,” she wrote. “This, at present — is my greatest ambition.”
Needles said Bedell’s family situation wasn’t dire.
“According to an 1860 census, her father made about $2,000 a year,” Needles said. “That put them in the middle class. Though she said her father lost land, I don’t think she was destitute.”
Three years after writing the letter, Bedell married George Billings. They moved to Delphos, Kan., where she lived in the same house until her death in 1936. She was 87.
Duane Billings, of Salina, is Bedell’s great-grandson. He said Bedell was known as someone who could take care of herself — even during the rough, turbulent times of turn-of-the-century Kansas.
Billings brought several of Bedell’s possessions to PSU for a display, including a Smith & Wesson pistol with a pearl grip that she carried with her almost everywhere.
Needles speculated that Lincoln never saw Bedell’s letter requesting a job. Lincoln’s chief secretary, John Hay, was out of town when it arrived. Had Hay seen it, he would have recognized the name of the girl from Westfield, N.Y.
Instead, Hay’s substitute likely read the letter and filed it with the rest of the applications for Treasury positions, Needles hypothesized, because that’s where she found the letter more than 140 years later.
“It’s a tragedy that Lincoln didn’t get this,” Needles said. “Lincoln loved children, and Bedell’s letter would have lifted his spirits.”
Needles found the letter in March as part of a project to archive and digitize records from the Lincoln presidency. These records are available at www.lincolnarchives.us.
John Daley, chairman of the PSU history department, said the find is astonishing.
“It’s a safe bet that a historian can find something to use in a class,” Daley said. “But finding something like this that other researchers haven’t found, now that’s something.”
The second Grace Bedell letter to Abraham Lincoln is valuable because it confirms that Lincoln wrote Bedell back after her first letter, Karen Needles said.
Though the text of Lincoln’s reply to the first letter can be found in historical research, the original letter has not been found.
“Her letter goes back to the original letter,” said Needles, a documents researcher based in Washington, D.C. “Then it goes further by mentioning the reply. That verifies that Lincoln did write back.”
<img src="http://www.joplinglobeonline.com/images/zope/extra.gif" border=0> Writing to President Lincoln <font color="#ff0000">w/ Grace Bedell letters and photos </font>
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