Lincoln in Will County, Illinois
From: History of Will County, Illinois
By: August Maue
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka-Indianapolis 1928

Lincoln in Will County. - Lincoln visited Will County when campaigning. Opinions differ about the place where he stood. That is not so important. We do like to know of his coming. The following account is by Mrs. Almeda Stephenson in the Herald-News (1928) :

"Contrary to popular belief that beauty pageants are comparatively new and modern, records and the memory of Mrs. Almeda Stephenson, 82 year old Will County pioneer resident, serve to provide evidence that Will County's first beauty pageant was held in 1858, and for one of the nation's greatest personages, Abraham Lincoln.

"Mrs. Stephenson, now living in an apartment at No. 1 East Jefferson street, and who is at present visiting her daughter, Mrs. M. C. Townsend, in Evanston, recalls vividly her experiences on that occasion, when in company with nine companions, all twelve years of age, she participated in the event.

"Abraham Lincoln was at that time campaigning for the United States senator, and it was at the time of the famous Lincoln Douglas debates, that he stopped in Joliet. The whole countryside turned out to greet him, and Mrs. Stephenson was allowed to ride on a hayrack in the parade, because her father, the late Abraham Wilkins, happened to be in charge of arrangements.

"Mrs. Stephenson is of the opinion that the honored candidate was less interested in the young beauties on the hayrack than the men of today would be.

" 'But the girls on the hayrack carrying parasols and wearing ribbons denoting the counties they represented, didn't feel bad,' she said. 'We were disgusted with his appearance, he looked so tall and awkward, and we all agreed that he would never amount to much, even tho our parents, most of whom were staunch republicans, had awaited his coming eagerly.'

" 'As Lincoln talked, however, tho we knew little of what it all meant, we listened to his oratory, and our parents were deeply impressed.'

"The meeting was held, Mrs. Stephenson recalls, in what was known at that time as Demmond's Woods, and was located on the west side of Joliet. She lived with her parents and ten brothers and sisters, all of whom, with the exception of herself are now dead, in Florence Township, four miles east of Wilmington.

"Her father, she states, showed his anxiety to hear Lincoln by driving miles over plankroads to get to the political mass meeting and paying toll for all the girls in the pageant. He also arranged a rail splitting contest before the meeting began in honor of Lincoln, and it was obvious that Lincoln was more interested in that than in the girls.

" 'Such an event was just like a circus to us, and people came in ox carts and on horseback. It was the only time I ever saw Lincoln, but I never forgot that day,' she said.

"Mrs. Stephenson believes that her companions all of whom came from prominent and representative families of Will County in the early days of its history, are now dead. Her parents had originally lived in Lockport, but she was born on the 'old Bliss farm,' two miles west of New Lenox, where Miss Hattie Francis, daughter of the late John Francis and Maria Bliss, now resides.

"Mrs. Stephenson is the last surviving member of her family, and her relatives are all buried in Lockport cemeteries."

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