In a recent New York Times blog post marking the sesquicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s beard, Adam Goodheart traces the history of how Lincoln became the first American president to sport facial hair.
Lincoln’s personal decision to grow a beard was sparked by an eleven-year-old named Grace Bedell, who wrote to him that if he grew one, “All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President,” but he was also participating in a nation-wide “beard movement.” Beards had become associated with revolutionary nationalism, and Northerners who sympathized with slave-owners were derided as “doughfaces.”
In the fifty years after Lincoln became president, only one man (William McKinley) would be elected to that office without any facial hair. But after William Howard Taft, who left office in 1913, no American president has had facial hair.
Curious, we made a list of the bearded Library of America authors. It turns out that most of our iconically bearded authors were indeed participating in the late-nineteenth-century beard trend, including Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, both Henry and William James, and even Walt Whitman. Since then, our authors have been mostly clean-shaven. Only two of our twentieth-century authors sported full beards for any length of time: Philip K. Dick and John Berryman.
Update: A couple of our loyal readers remind us that, late in life, Ezra Pound upgraded from his trademark goatee to a beard.
More fun with beards: