Her Thoughts — Looking back over Thanksgiving’s history

Published 12:00 pm Friday, October 14, 2022

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Thanksgiving is a time when we give gratitude to God for all the blessings He has bestowed upon us. Who would have thought the lady who penned the nursery rhyme “Mary Had A Little Lamb” would be the agent of making Thanksgiving as a day the United States would honor. We can thank Sarah Hale for bringing this day to the forefront as a national holiday.

Born Sarah Josepha Buell Hale on October 24, 1788 in Newport, New Hampshire to Captain Gordon and Martha Buell, Sarah Hale was homeschooled by her mother and older brother Horatio in an atmosphere in which her parents believed in educating both girls and boys. Eventually, Sarah Hale worked as a teacher and on October 23, 1813, married lawyer David Hale and that union produced five children. They were David, Horatio, Frances, Sarah and William.

Unfortunately, in 1822, David passed away. Yet afterward, her writing career took off which was a means of support for herself and her children. I believe as a woman of unwavering Christian faith, Sarah’s role as writer, activist and editor culminated in her zeal to secure support for Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Her 1827 novel Northwood: Life North and South solidified her as one of the first American women novelists, while in 1830 her poem “Mary Had A Little Lamb” was published for children and subsequently, she became the editor of the journal Godey’s Lady Book. In addition, Sarah helped establish Vassar College because of her support for women’s education as well as championing that more of them be hired as authors, instructors and administrators.

Known as the “Mother of Thanksgiving”, Sarah Hale worked to secure the event as a national holiday in the U. S., since it had mostly been celebrated in the New England states. Some recognized the day in October while others did so in late January and it was basically unknown in the American South. In fact, the only national holidays in the early 1800s were George Washington’s birthday and Independence Day.

From 1846 to 1863, Sarah petitioned for support of the endeavor by writing letters to Presidents Taylor, Pierce, Fillimore, Buchanan and Lincoln. Surprisingly, the first four were unpersuaded to legalize the holiday but thank God the letter written to President Lincoln garnered support for legalizing Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863. It was the perfect medicine for a country that needed healing after a tumultuous Civil War.

Furthermore, Sarah Hale continued working as editor for the Godey’s Lady Book until her death at age 90 on April 30, 1879 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hale is buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in the city and a blue historical marker sits at 922 Spruce St. The activist pioneer is honored with a commemoration on Boston’s Women’s Heritage Trail and a collection of her correspondence is housed at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.

Sarah Hale believed the thankful spirit of America had eroded and put activism into action by proposing a meaningful way the whole nation could give praise and honor to Almighty God for his many blessings by celebrating Thanksgiving. We owe a debt of gratitude to Sarah Hale for leading the way.

Judy Moore is a tour guide at The Central High Museum, lives in Wylliesburg and can be reached at v5agabond2@gmail.com.