Remarkable American Women: Sarah Josepha Hale, Founder of Our National Thanksgiving

This week I posted an article about the authorship of Mary Had a Little Lamb, (link) attributed to of Sarah Josepha Hale. Today I read another article about her crusade to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday, to be celebrated annually on the same day by all the states. In a campaign that lasted  two decades, Hale wrote countless letters and editorials to congressmen, governors, and five sitting Presidents. At last, in October, 1863, Abraham Lincoln became convinced by her argument that a new national holiday would help to unify the country in the aftermath of the Civil War. Until then, the only other holidays celebrated across America were Independence Day and Washington’s birthday. Lincoln set the new Thanksgiving event on the last Thursday of every November. This date held until 1939, when President Roosevelt, in order to extend the Christmas shopping season, changed it to the second to last Thursday in November. Ultimately, in 1941, Congress made the change official.

by James Reid Lambdin, 1831

Mrs Hale also wrote editorials proposing a menu containing foods available at the original Plymouth Thanksgiving dinner. But her exceptional career was influential in many other realms. Born in 1788, she rose to become one of America’s first woman writers of note.  Northwood: Life North and South, one of the first successful books to deal with slavery as an integral part of its plot, was published in 1852. She produced numerous recipe books and poetry compilations, and served as editor of the widely popular magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book, for forty years. Hale advocated for education, physical fitness, women’s rights,  the preservation of Mt. Vernon, and the building of the Bunker Hill Monument, for which she raised $30,000.

The remarkable Sarah Josepha Hale, a woman far ahead of her time,  died at the age of 91, in 1879.


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