Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Sarah Josepha Hale and the Thanksgiving Holiday By Julie Lence

courtesy of NNDB

Sarah Josepha Buell was born October 24, 1788 in Newport, New Hampshire to parents who believed in education for males and females. Her growing up years she received an extensive education and married lawyer, David Hale. The couple had 5 children, but sadly, David died during their 9th year of marriage, leaving Sarah to raise their children. To earn an income, Sarah began writing poetry, and penned the famous, Mary Had a Little Lamb. She teamed with Reverend John Laurie Blake and helped establish American Ladies Magazine, taking on the position of editor. She moved to Boston and remained there until 1837, often using the magazine to promote women’s issues such as education, child rearing, and reinforcing a woman’s domestic role. She didn’t support the suffragist movement or women entering politics because she believed both would limit a woman’s influence in the home, that women shaped the morals of society and encouraged them to write morally uplifting novels.

courtest of 
Louis A. Godey bought out America Ladies Magazine in 1837 and changed the name to Godey’s Ladies Book. He offered Sarah the editor position. She accepted and moved to Philadelphia, where she remained editor for 40 years. During that time, she championed civil rights, secured funds to preserve George Washington’s home and to construct the Bunker Hill Monument, both of which are still open today, and helped found Vassar College for women. 

courtest of Wikipedia
Throughout her childhood, Sarah celebrated Thanksgiving. She published Northwood: A Tale of New England in 1827, which included a chapter on the Thanksgiving celebration. Many areas in the northeast part of the country celebrated Thanksgiving, but at the time she was editor for Godey’s, Thanksgiving was not a federal holiday. Hoping to rectify that, she began lobbying state and federal officials to pass legislation to make Thanksgiving a national holiday, going so far as to set the holiday on the last Thursday in November. Her requests were mostly ignored, nor was she the first to suggest such a day of thanks. George Washington called for a national day of thanks after the Revolutionary war, and both John Adams and James Madison issued their own proclamations. Nothing was ever done until the Civil War.

courtesy of 
Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, issued Thanksgiving Day proclamations in 1861 and 1862. Abraham Lincoln called for a day of thanks in April 1862 and the summer of 1863s, and Sarah continued to lobby for a national holiday by sending letters in September to Lincoln and William Seward, who was Secretary of State. She firmly believed a national holiday might ease the tensions between the north and the south and finally realized her hard efforts when, one week after receiving her letter, Seward drafted Lincoln’s official proclamation making the last Thursday in November an official day of Thanksgiving. 

courtesy of Pennsylvania Historic Preservation 
A true pioneer for women, Sarah retired from Godey’s 1877. She died two years later in her Philadelphia home at the age of 92. She’s buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery and a blue historical marker resides at her home on Spruce Street.  

public domain


Kristy McCaffrey said...

Really interesting post, Julie. I never knew a woman was behind the holiday.

Julie Lence said...

Hi Kristy: I didn't know about her either. I don't think we were taught about her in school. I was looking for something Thanksgiving related for the blog and just stumbled upon her. Hugs and have a great day.

Andrea Downing said...

I had Godey's prints in my bedroom growing up--they did ladies' fashions to sew and the prints became highly collectible. Thanks for filling in some of that history, Julie.