The Mother of Thanksgiving
Sarah Josepha Hale’s legacy is astounding. She penned the famed poem, Mary Had a Little Lamb and is one of America’s first female novelists. She published many famous authors as the editor of one of the most influential and successful periodicals of the time, Lady’s Book. Sarah campaigned for the completion of the Bunker Hill monument and the preservation of Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation, all while being a single mother of five children. And finally, Sarah Josepha Hale is known as the mother of Thanksgiving, for she successfully lobbied for it to become a National Holiday.
Before this moment, Thanksgiving was a regional day of thanks and prayer that occurred anywhere from September to December. And some areas of the country rejected the holiday altogether.
Sarah grew up in New Hampshire, where Thanksgiving was a regular celebrated annual holiday. She wrote numerous editorials, articles, and devoted an entire chapter in her novel, Northwood: A Tale of New England, to Thanksgiving. Sarah relished how the holiday celebrated different groups of people coming together.
Sarah believed making Thanksgiving a National Holiday would ease growing tensions and divisions between the northern and southern parts of the country. Thus she devoted 36 years to letter-writing campaigns urging members of Congress, governors, and presidents to adopt the National Holiday.
Her last letter written to President Lincoln on September 28, 1863, amid the Civil War, finally gave her the outcome she so desired. For only one week later, on Oct. 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the proclamation designating the last Thursday of November as “A National Day of Thanksgiving and Praise.” To quell any naysayers, former President Lincoln wrote a series of editorials. He stated that “amid a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, the American people should take some time for gratitude.”
This year, as you gather around a table of friends and family, take a moment to give thanks to the woman who made this day possible. Lest we not forget her ultimate goal of bringing together the nation with a day of thanks and gratitude.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Sarah Josepha Hale.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 20 Oct. 2019, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sarah-Josepha-Hale.
“Home.” Boston Women’s Heritage Trail, https://bwht.org/sarah-josepha-hale/.
Norwood, Arlisha R. “Sarah Josepha Hale.” National Women’s History Museum, https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sarah-hale.
Waxman, Olivia B. “Thanksgiving: The Origins of a National Holiday.” Time, Time, 23 Nov. 2016, https://time.com/4577082/thanksgiving-holiday-history-origins/.