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Lincoln's face is so familiar to us that we no longer recognize how unusual his appearance was.

This page, extracted from The Physical Lincoln Sourcebook, shows how Lincoln struck eyewitnesses (mostly). All statements are fully referenced in the Sourcebook.

If the MEN2B diagosis is confirmed, it would be incorrect to call Lincoln "ugly," as so many people on this page do. The proper term would be "dysmorphic," meaning that his body shape was not normal. "Dysmorphic" is the preferred term because it does not carry a value judgment. It is not an insult, whereas "ugly" always is.

For true pathos, read how girls treated him.

General Observations:

  • In Kentucky: homeliest boy in the area, per Alexander Sympson

  • In youth: "so awful homely" -- local girl

  • Indiana: "extremely awkward and homely to a marked degree is evidenced by the testimony of all of his early friends" -- J. Edward Murr

  • Indiana: "so tall, lean, lank and ugly" -- Wesley Hall

  • April 1829: "I saw Lincoln at my father-in-law's two days after [my] marriage. He was not a good looking young man." -- Elizabeth Grigsby, remembering 70 years later

  • In New Salem: "thin as a beanpole and ugly as a scarecrow" -- Miss Camron

  • About 1835: "Homely? Yes, I suppose he was, but I never thought of that then." -- Nancy Rutledge Prewitt

  • "Mr. Lincoln may not be as handsome a figure, but the people are perhaps not aware that his heart is as large as his arms are long." -- Mary Lincoln

  • About 1847: "not pretty" -- Mary Lincoln

  • "He was not a pretty man by any means, nor was he was an ugly one; he was a homely man, careless of his looks, plain-looking and plain-acting." -- William Herndon

  • "he was homely, awkward, diffident" -- Isaac Arnold

  • "Who in the hell are those two ugly men?" -- stranger's remark, seeing Lincoln sitting next to Archibald Williams

  • 1857: "Tall, gaunt, and homely" -- Albert Woldman

  • 1858: "odd-featured, wrinkled, inexpressive, and altogether uncomely face" -- Henry Villard

  • March 1859: "His face was not handsome, to be sure" -- William Stoddard

  • "His face is certainly ugly, but not repulsive; on the contrary, the good humor, generosity and intellect beaming from it, makes the eye love to linger there until you almost fancy him good-looking." -- Lillian Foster

  • 1860: "His features are not handsome" -- "a biographer"

  • May 19, 1860: His smile "lighting up every homely feature" on his face -- Charles Coffin

  • June 21, 1860: "After you have been five minutes in his company you cease to think that he is either homely or awkward." -- Utica newspaper reporter

  • Nov. 1860: "lean and ugly in every way" -- Thomas Webster

  • Feb. 1861: "Mr. Lincoln is very homely" -- Allan Pinkerton

  • Feb. 1861: "distressingly homely ... awkward homeliness" -- James A. Garfield, future President of the United States

  • Feb. 1861: "So much has been said in disparagement of the personal appearance of Mr. Lincoln that imagination had depicted him with ogre-like lineaments; but ... he is found, on actual inspection, to be a perfectly presentable man" -- N.Y. World

  • Feb. 1861: "looked 100 per cent better than I was led to suppose from any picture etc I had seen" -- eyewitness

  • Feb. 1861: "a better looking man than his portraits represent him" -- eyewitness

  • Feb. 1861: "much better looking" than expected -- a New Yorker

  • Feb. 1861: "not so bad looking as they say" -- a minister

  • Feb. 1861: "He isn't a handsome man" -- a New Yorker

  • Feb. 20, 1861: "not so ugly as his portraits" -- George Templeton Strong

  • Mar. 1, 1861: "Younger and much finer looking than his portraits" -- Samuel DuPont

  • Fall 1861: "The Pres. is not half so ugly as he is generally represented." -- a soldier

  • Spring 1862: "homely of face, large-boned, angular, and loosely put together" -- T.B. Bancroft

  • 1862: "To say he is ugly is nothing: to add that his figure is grotesque is to convey no adequate impression." -- Edward Dicey

  • "He's not an ugly man -- but is a good looking man -- What do you call him ugly? I don't" -- a visitor, charmed by Lincoln

  • As President: "People said that his face was ugly. He certainly had neither the figure nor features of the Apollo of Belvedere; but he never appeared ugly to me, for his face, beaming with boundless kindness and benevolence towards mankind, had the stamp of intellectual beauty." -- Princess Salm-Salm

  • "the neighbors told me that I would find that Mr. Lincoln was an ugly man, when he is really the handsomest man I ever saw in my life." -- a woman, immediately after Lincoln commutes her son's death sentence

  • "All the synonyms which harmonize with such words as homely, ugly, repulsive, etc. have been used to describe his countenance by some writers." -- Louis A. Warren

  • As President: "tall, homely form" -- David Homer Bates

  • 1860: "He is said to be a homely man; I do not think so." -- painter John Henry Brown

  • 1861: "His face was a pleasant surprise... I remember thinking how much better-looking he was than I had anticipated, and wondering that anyone should consider him ugly." -- John M. Winchell

  • About 1864: "He was never handsome, indeed, but he grew more and more cadaverous and ungainly month by month." -- W.A. Croffut

  • 1865: "... was a homely enough figure..." -- W.H. Crook

  • April 1865: "not a handsome man, and ungainly in his person" -- Admiral David Porter
Extreme Observations:
  • "The first time I saw Mr. Lincoln I thought him the homeliest man I had ever seen." -- Clark Carr

  • 1858: "I thought him about the ugliest man I had ever seen." -- Rev. George C. Noyes

  • 1860: "Mr. Lincoln was the homeliest man I ever saw." - Donn Piatt

  • 1861 (about): "the ugliest man I had seen, for one looking so young" -- Samuel DuPont

  • 1862: "about the homeliest man I ever saw, yet by no means repulsive or disagreeable" -- Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • Oct. 1, 1862: "not only is the ugliest man I ever saw, but the most uncouth and gawky in his manners and appearance." -- a soldier

  • Early 1865: "the ugliest man I have ever put my eyes on" -- Colonel Theodore Lyman

  • About 1858: "I am the homeliest man in the State of Illinois." -- Lincoln
Lincoln's Self-View:
  • "my homely face"

  • Lincoln told jokes about ugliness, e.g., woman to a man: "Well, for the land's sake, you are the homeliest man I ever saw!" Man: "Yes ma'am, but I can't help that." Woman: "No, I suppose not, but you might stay at home."

  • After being called two-faced in a debate: "I leave it to my audience. If I had another face, do you think I'd wear this one?"

  • Election opponents "said it was a disgrase to the County ... to have such a Looking man as i am stuck up for the Legislature" -- related by J. Rowan Herndon

  • "I was once accosted ... by a stranger who said `Excuse me, sir, but I have an article in my possession which belongs to you.' `How is that?' I asked, considerably astonished. The stranger took a jackknife from his pocket. `This knife,' said he, `was placed in my hands some years ago, with the injunction that I was to keep it until I found a man uglier than myself. Allow me now to say, sir, that I think you are fairly entitled to the property.' "

  • "I don't know why you boys want such a homely face." -- Lincoln, when urged to have a photograph

  • "A yarn is told of him..." Lincoln was splitting rails with "Collar open" when a man came up and pointed a gun at him. "Says Lincoln What do you mean, the man replied that he had promised to shoot the first man who was uglier than himself." Looking at the man's face, Lincoln said "If I am uglier then you, then blaze away" -- Samuel Haycraft

  • "On repeated occasions he remarked to some woman or to an audience, `In the matter of looks I have the advantage,' meaning that they had to look at him while he couldn't see himself."

  • A man in Dayton, Ohio began painting a portrait of Lincoln, who said to him: "Keep on. You may make a good one, but never a pretty one."

  • Lincoln told a story of being approached by a man who said: "I promised long ago that if I ever met a man uglier than myself I would hand him this pistol and tell him to shoot me." Lincoln's reply: "Well, if I am uglier than you are, for God's sake, go ahead and shoot."

  • 1858: "Nobody has ever expected me to be President. In my poor lean, lank face nobody has ever seen any cabbages were sprouting out." -- Lincoln self-description, before growing his beard

  • About 1858: "I cannot see why all you artists want a likeness of me unless it is because I am the homeliest man in the State of Illinois." -- Lincoln

  • May 1860: "That picture gives a very fair representation of my homely face." -- Lincoln

  • Feb. 1861: "They say I look like you," said a guest. "I take it that that settles that you are a good looking man."

  • Dec. 3, 1863: Ill with smallpox, Lincoln jokes "There is one consolation about the matter, doctor, it cannot in the least disfigure me!"

  • Feb. 1864: "Do you think, Mr. Carpenter, that you can make a handsome picture of me?" -- Lincoln to portrait painter Francis Carpenter

  • Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, frustrated with Lincoln, exclaimed "We've got to get rid of that baboon in the White House." Lincoln was told of the insult and responded: "Insult? insult? That is no insult. It is an expression of opinion. And what troubles me most about it is the fact that Stanton said it, and Stanton is usually right."

  • "If I have one vice, it is not being able to say no! Thank God for not making me a woman, but if He had, I suppose He would have made me just as ugly as He did, and no one would ever have tempted me." -- Lincoln to General Elbert Viele

  • As President, while sitting for a painting: "... as he was glancing at his letters, he burst into a hearty laugh, and exclaimed: `As a painter, Mr. Healy, you shall be a judge between this unknown correspondent and me. She complains of my ugliness. It is allowed to be ugly in this world, but not as ugly as I am. She wishes me to put on false whiskers, to hide my horrible lantern jaws. Will you paint me with false whiskers? No? I thought not.' "

  • Explaining his homeliness: "When I was two months old I was the handsomest child in Kentucky, but my Negro nurse swapped me off for another boy, just to please a friend who was going down the river, whose child was rather plain-looking."


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