Happy Thanksgiving! While you are being grateful for your food, friends, and family, take a little time to remember Sarah Josepha Hale, who made this day of thanks possible.
Give Thanks to Sarah Josepha Hale
Sarah Josepha Buell was born on October 24, 1788, on a farm in Newport, New Hampshire. From a tender age, she was curious, smart, and eager to learn.
As a young girl, Sarah was taught by her mother about history and literature. Later, her brother Horatio taught her everything that he was learning as a student at Dartmouth College.
When Sarah was growing up, women were not accepted as teachers. However, this didn’t stop her from founding a private school when she was 18 years old. She taught until she met David Hale. They married in 1813.
David encouraged Sarah to write short stories and articles. Many of these were published in local newspapers.
Suddenly, in 1822, David died, and Sarah was left to care for their five children. To make ends meet, she first operated a women’s hat shop; later, she resumed teaching and writing. Soon she published her first book of poems, including one that became the famous nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” In 1827, she published her first novel.
John Blake of Boston read Sarah’s novel and asked her to work for him on Ladies’ Magazine. Sarah accepted and became the first woman editor of a magazine in the United States. She introduced new ideas and a new title, calling it American Ladies’ Magazine.
Within a few years, Louis Godey of Philadelphia bought John’s magazine and merged it with Godey’s Lady’s Book, keeping Sarah as editor.
Throughout this period, Sarah had written hundreds of letters to governors, ministers, newspaper editors, and every U.S. president with one request: that the last Thursday in November be set aside to “offer to God our tribute of joy and gratitude for the blessings of the year.”
Native American harvest festivals and colonists’ services to give thanks had taken place for centuries in North America, but there was no one Thanksgiving holiday.
In 1863, with the country torn by the Civil War, Sarah’s idea finally got people’s attention. That September, she put her thanksgiving message into an editorial and wrote to President Abraham Lincoln, urging him to make Thanksgiving Day a fixed national festival.
Lincoln liked Sarah’s idea. On October 3, 1863, he issued a proclamation declaring the last Thursday of November to be National Thanksgiving Day. He ordered all government offices in Washington closed on that day.
Sarah enjoyed many Thanksgiving celebrations. She died on April 30, 1879, at the age of 90.