Dear Mr. President Study Guide

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Prepared by Cathy Kaemmerlen

Program Description

DEAR MR. PRESIDENT is a one-woman show with the actress portraying four young women whose lives were forever changed and influenced by their relationships with Abraham Lincoln.  Helen Nicolay, the daughter of John George Nicolay, Lincoln’s chief of staff narrates the play, seeingLincoln through her father’s eyes.  She leads us to Grace Bedell who wrote Lincoln the letter asking him to grow whiskers, a letter ranked as one of the most important letters in the Lincoln mailbag.  Helen then introduces us to Vinnie Ream, the sculptress who spent five months with Lincoln as she sculpted a bust of him and later was the first woman commissioned by the U.S. government to sculpt a full figured representation of Lincoln that stands in the Capitol Rotunda.  Last we meet Julia Taft, a babysitter to Tad and Willie Lincoln, who would accompany her brothers, the Lincolnboys’ closest playmates, to their playdates at the White House.  All of these stories tell us different sides of the President, offering insights into his personal life.  Our 16th president still lives in our minds as the greatest American president.  These four ladies would agree wholeheartedly and with the greatest admiration.

Artist Biography

Cathy Kaemmerlen, author, actress, historical interpreter, playwright, and storyteller, is known for her variety of characters, one-woman shows, and for bringing history to life.  A performer and “creator of shows” since she can remember, she has toured in schools coast to coast, since receiving a BA in English/elementary education from UNC-Charlotte, and a MFA in dance performance/choreography/theatre at the University of Wisconsin.  She tours some 20 current shows which she wrote, through the Georgia and South Carolina Touring Arts Rosters, Fulton County Teaching Museums, G.E.T. Programs in the Schools, and through her own production company, Tattlingtales Productions. She is the author of four books and many plays, including one commissioned by the DeKalb Historical Society. Most recently she was commissioned by the Plains Chautauqua Society to write and appear in the one-woman show:  The Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail..

Background of Art Form

Telling stories is an oral tradition, dating back to when mankind first developed a language or form of communication. Storytelling is a universal way of passing down information to be saved and remembered and individually interpreted for years to come.  It is an interactive art form in which the storytellers’ passion for the story, material, and information, is passed on to the audience, who sorts through, interprets, stores, and synthesizes what is heard.


Teachers, please read this to your students. 

Today we’re going to enjoy a show that tells us stories of Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, from the eyes and lives of four young ladies whose lives were greatly influenced by Lincoln.  We’ll meet Helen Nicolay whose father lived in the White House and served as Lincoln’s chief of staff.  We’ll meet Grace Bedell who at 11 years of age wrote Lincoln that he would look more presidential if he grew a beard.  He did and that bearded face is the most recognized American face in the world.  We’ll meet Vinnie Ream who was a sculptress, born in a log cabin in Madison, Wisconsin, who went on to sculpt a bust of Abraham Lincoln and a full sized  marble sculpture of him that stands in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington.  Last we’ll meet Julia Taft, who was a babysitter to theLincoln boys, Tad and Willie, along with her brothers Bud and Holly who were inseparable playmates.  The Lincoln boys were famous for their shenanigans in the White House and we’ll hear about some of their mischief.  These four young ladies are only a few of the many people whose lives were influenced by Abraham Lincoln.  We are celebrating the bicentennial of his birth and are still greatly influenced by this man whom many consider as our greatest president.

Warm Up Questions to set the stage for engaging students

Why was Lincoln such a great president?
What would it be like for a president to serve during the Civil War?
Why was the Emancipation Proclamation so important?
Do you think writing to the president or to your congressmen is an important thing to do?
What would you write to the president about?
Why is it so important in our country to be able to write to the president anything that is on our minds?
What role do you think the president should serve?
Do you think it is possible for all the people to like the president and agree with him?
Why do you think Lincoln did not think he would be re-elected?
Does hearing personal stories about important people like Lincoln help us to understand him more?
Can you think of any people who have influenced your life and decisions?

Warm Up Questions for meeting the Georgia Performance Standards for “Listening/Speaking/Viewing”

Describe the perfect audience.
What are some of our class rules for being good listeners?
How do we show someone we appreciate their visit to our school or classroom?
How does being part of an audience help make you a good citizen?
What are some examples of bad audience behavior or attitudes?
How does a negative audience member effect your enjoyment of a show or performance?
How would this make the performer feel?
How do we want the performer to feel when they leave our school or classroom?

Reflect and Do: Post Performance Activities

You can write to the president by snail mail and address it to:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

You can also email the president with general comments to:

Or directly to the president:

Keep in mind the president receives thousands of letters and emails daily, especially during the school year.  But don’t let that discourage you from writing.  You never know if your letter might be the one he reads! Remember Grace Bedell!

Find out how to write your local state and national representatives and your senators too.  You can also write your city’s mayor, your school board, your county commissioner, and even your principal with your comments and thoughts.

Vocabulary Words

emancipation:  the process of setting or making free, especially slaves
proclamation:  a public notice or official order
assassination:  the act of killing by a secret murderer
hoax:  a joke or prank never carried out
chief of staff:  the coordinator of the supporting staff and primary aide to an important elected official, such as the president.
rail splitter:  derogatory term given to one who chops up wood, a woodsman and a hick
affectation:  an attempt to assume what is not natural and looks fake
correspondent:  someone you write or correspond to
Emancipation Declaration:  the proclamation issued in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln that freed all the slaves south of the Mason Dixon line.  All the slaves could not be freed except by an amendment to the US Constitution, specifically the 13th amendment.
Zouave:  a soldier adopting the dress of the French soldiers of Algiers known for their brilliant uniforms and noted for their dash and bravery
Tycoon:  typically a rich man in charge of a big business or monopoly


LINCOLN’S SECRETARY by Helen Nicolay  (I had to borrow on interlibrary loan from West Georgia College in Carrollton)
THE PRESIDENTIAL MAILBAG (sequel to the above) by Harold Holzer
GRACE’S LETTER TO LINCOLN by Connie and Peter Roop, Hyperion Press, c 1998.
TAD LINCOLN’S FATHER by Julia Taft, Bison Books, c 2001.
MR LINCOLN’S BOYS by Staton Rabin, Viking Press, c2008.
VINNE AND ABRAHAM by Dawn Fitzgerald, Charlesbridge Press, c 2007.
A LABOR OF LOVE:  THE LIFE AND ART OF VINNIE REAM by Glenn V Sherwood, Sunshine Press Publications, c 1999.
LINCOLN’S LITTLE GIRL by Fred Trump, Boyds Mill Press, c 1977.
MR LINCOLN’S WHISKERS by Karen Winnick, Boyds Mill Press, c 1996.
MR LINCOLN’S WHISKERS by Burke Davis, Coward McCann and Geoghegan Inc., NY, c 1978.
LINCOLN’S LITTLE CORRESPONDENT by Hertha Pauli, Doubleday and Co., c 1951.
LINCOLN by David Herbert Donald (also available on audiotape)


Technical Needs Sheet for Dear Mr. President

  • clean, clear space:  preferably auditorium or media center or classroom
  • as this is a more intimate show, desirable audience maximum is 100-150
  • wooden chair and small wooden table for set