Presidential beards and glabrousness

Randy Riley - Contributing Columnist

One of the most famous stories about Abraham Lincoln involves an 11-year-old girl named Grace Bedell.

Young Grace was from a family that was politically active and outspoken. Her father endorsed the 1860 Republican candidate, Lincoln, in his campaign against the three other candidates; Southern Democrat John Breckenridge, Constitutional Union candidate John Bell, and Democrat Stephen Douglas. Possibly because of her father’s influence, Grace strongly admired and supported Abraham Lincoln — except for his face.

One day, her father gave Grace a campaign picture of Lincoln and his running mate, Hannibal Hamlin. Grace looked at the thin, angular appearance of Lincoln’s face and decided he needed a beard. So, she wrote him a letter and told him exactly that. In her letter, she told him, “All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.”

Apparently, to court the female vote, Abraham Lincoln started growing a beard. By the time he won the election and arrived in Washington D.C. to be sworn in, Lincoln was sporting his now famous chin-whiskers.

The following information about beards was found on the internet website Wikipedia. As usual the writers of Wikipedia articles get a lot more technical and detailed than is ever needed.

“A beard is the collection of hair that grows on the chin, cheeks or neck of humans and some non-human animals. In humans, usually only pubescent or adult males are able to grow beards.

“From an evolutionary viewpoint the beard is a part of the broader category of androgenic hair. It is a vestigial trait from a time when humans had hair on their face and entire body like the hair on gorillas.

“Since hair bore parasitic bugs and ticks, as humans evolved they lost more hair, due to the advantage that a more glabrous body prevented parasitic bugs.”

OK, I had to look up the word glabrous. It means smooth and free of hair. By that definition, up until a month ago I could have been described as having a glabrous face. Then, I went on vacation for a week and decided to take a week off from shaving. I am no longer glabrous. My wife says I just look scruffy.

There are any number of reasons to grow a beard. Winter beards are common. When I was much younger and my beard grew out reddish brown, I would stop shaving every year as soon as I saw the first snowflake. The beard grew until I saw the first robin of spring. For several years, it became a winter ritual.

Recently, a new reason for not shaving has developed. It’s called No-shave-November or Noshember for short. People (men and women) are allowed to shave on Oct. 31, but until Dec. 1 they commit not to allow a razor to touch their skin. In some places Noshember is called Movember (really, you can’t make up this silliness). The difference is that Moshember advocates only grow a moustache – not a full beard.

There is a reason for these two hairy, November events. Men (and women) who chose not to shave during November, also commit to raise money for men’s health issues, specifically funding research to find a cure for prostate cancer. It sounds like a good reason not to shave and an excellent reason to raise funds for cancer research.

Unlike Abe Lincoln, I didn’t receive any correspondence from a child regarding whether I should have a beard or not. During our week-long golf trip to Myrtle Beach in March, I just decided not to shave. A week later I had a beard. Now, a month later, I have to trim this old-gray-beard occasionally.

Maybe it is appropriate. Lincoln grew a beard just before becoming President. I grew a beard just after becoming President of City Council. That is where most similarities between Lincoln and Riley end.

Mary Todd reportedly liked Abe’s beard. Debbie definitely does not like my new beard. The grandkids seem to enjoy Pappy’s fuzzy-face. Thus far, I’ve managed to avoid parasitic bugs and ticks. Last week, I was told that I have a Hemingway-thing going. I’ll take that as a compliment.

I’m sure that some morning when I reach up to scratch my chin and it scratches me back, I’ll shave. Until then, I’ll be anything but glabrous.

Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.

Randy Riley

Contributing Columnist