Grace Bedell’s Letters to Lincoln – Part 2 A Preview of the Future

Grace Bedell in the 1870s

Four years after her now famous first letter in 1860, an older, more mature Grace Bedell again wrote Abraham Lincoln.

Karen Needles, a Pittsburg State University (Missouri) graduate and a documents researcher based in Washington, D.C., discovered the letter while going through old Treasury applications from the 1860s as part of a project to archive and digitize records from the Lincoln presidency. [1]

Bedell, this time, had a request, not campaign advice.

This will be a two-part post. Part 1 covers Bedell’s 1860 letter. Part 2 examines her letter to Lincoln in 1864.

Her Second Letter – 1864

Bedell wrote this “second* letter [*See Annotation below in Works Cited] to Lincoln when she was 15. She asked for Lincoln’s help obtaining a job with the Treasury Department.

Let’s take a look at her 1864 letter. [I added the line breaks and bolded one paragraph for emphasis, but I changed NONE of the text.]

Pres Lincoln,

 

After a great deal of forethought on the subject I have concluded to address you, asking your aid in obtaining a situation,

 

Do you remember before your election receiving a letter from a little girl residing at Westfield in Chautauque Co. advising the wearing of whiskers as an improvement to your face. I am that little girl grown to the size of a woman. 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.

 

My Father during the last few years lost nearly all his property, and although we have never known want,

 

I feel that I ought and could do something for myself. If I only knew what that “something” was. I have heard that a large number of girls are employed constantly and with good wages at Washington cutting Treasury notes and other things pertaining to that Department.

 

Could I not obtain a situation ther? I know I could if you would exert your unbounded influences 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,

 

this, at present – is my highest ambition. My parents are ignorant of this application to you for assistance.

 

If you require proof of my family’s respectability. I can name persons here whose names may not be unknown to you. We have always resided here excepting the two years we were at Westfield.

 

I have addressed one letter to you before, pertaining to this subject, but receiving no answer I chose rather to think you had failed to recieve it, not believing that your natural kindness of heart of which I have heard so much would prompt you to pass it by unanswered.

 

Direct to this place.

Grace G. Bedell [1]

Bedell never got the job. – after two requests for assistance. Needles speculated that Lincoln, nor his secretary John Hay ever saw the letters from Bedell. [1]

And that’s unfortunate. Lincoln might have heard her message in this one too.

A Struggle Against the Status Quo

The second letter to Lincoln reflects a woman struggling with the status quo of her gender in the 19th Century. Bedell again wanted something different – this time, a self-sustaining career.

In her first letter, she mentioned four brothers, so Bedell didn’t NEED to support her parents, nor was she in dire financial straits. She just didn’t want to be a burden for her family. As she said, “…a good paying situation which would at least enable me to support myself if not to help my parents…” In fact,  she noted, her parents were not aware of her job request. [1]

Even her letter is different for a woman of the times. Change the date, and this has all the components of a modern cover letter.

Bedell recalled their former connection, flattered her potential employer, and explained the career goals and current financial situation the job would address. She even offered references – “If you require proof of my family’s respectability. I can name persons here whose names may not be unknown to you.” [1]

As in her first letter, she again proves her forward thinking. Regrettably, she was unsuccessful.

Grace Bedell of Delphos, Kansas

The Rest of Her Story

Bedell, in 1867, married a Civil War veteran named George Billings. They became part of the great post-Civil War migration to the western frontier. [1]

Bedell and her husband settled in a brand new town called Delphos, Kansas where she lived until her death shortly before her 88th birthday in 1936. They had a son in 1872 – Harlow Drake Billings. Both she and her husband are buried in the Delphos Cemetary.[3]

Grace Bedell in the 20th Century

Summary

Grace Bedell’s letters in 1860 and 1864 depict 19th Century American life from a woman’s view. They also imply a sense of struggle against the status quo of women.

Bedell showed an interest in and an understanding of the uniquely American political campaign process. She spoke of women’s influences on the “only men” bastion of voting,  and a wish to be included in this privilege. She also applied for a job via a letter to a resource she knew possessed the power to grant it. Bedell provided a past context, reasons, goals, and references – all with the hope of becoming economically self-sustaining rather than economically reliant.

The letters are far more important than just the cute “whiskers” story or a “Whatever Happened to…” article. They truly reflect an intelligent woman who desired more out of life than the 19th Century customs allowed. Grace Bedell is a preview of women as growing social, political, and economic forces with which to be reckoned in the future.

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?” [1]

Or to 19th Century history.

Food for thought.

Mac

Works Cited

[1]  Hadsall, Joe. “Writing to President Lincoln.” The Joplin Globe. November 6, 2007. Retrieved October 20, 2017 from https://archive.is/20130127114044/http://www.joplinglobe.com/local/local_story_309205053.html

[*]  Annotation: The letter found in 2007  was actually her third letter, but the earlier one, to which she refers in this letter, has never been found.

[2] These records are available at www.lincolnarchives.us.

[3] “Woman Urging Lincoln’s Beard Passes in West.” Schenectady Gazette. Schenectady, NY: Daily Gazette Company. November 4, 1936. p.17 (col 3).

 

 

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