We’ve all heard the story about the first Thanksgiving, held sometime in the fall of 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. But did you know that Thanksgiving was not proclaimed an official, national holiday until 1863? Between 1621 and1863 Thanksgiving was celebrated sporadically and regionally. After the Civil War, when Lincoln wanted to unify a divided country, he got the idea for a national celebration from Sarah Josepha Hale ─ widely considered to be “The Mother of Thanksgiving.”
The Early Days of Sarah Josepha Hales
Born in Newport, New Hampshire in 1788 as Sarah Josepha Buell, Hale was homeschooled by her mother and brother and became a schoolteacher. Following her husband David Hale’s death in 1822, she needed a way to raise her five children, so she stared a literary career.
A Powerful Media Influence
Hale had a very successful publishing career, writing biographies, cookbooks, and novels, including Northwood: A Tale of New England (1827). She also wrote poetry, and is reputed to be the author of Mary Had a Little Lamb. As the editor of Ladies’ Magazine, which later became Godey’s Lady’s Book, she wrote about topics of interest to women. She also published works of noted poets, including Longfellow and Poe. And while she fought for the education of girls, she was not known to be in favor of women’s equality as she felt it was ‘a degrading idea that women should be more like men.’
Campaigned to bring families together on Thanksgiving
Hale felt strongly that the nation needed a day each year to come together, and wrote notes to Lincoln’s predecessors for years without any luck. But she persuaded Lincoln, who wanted to unite and heal the country after the divisiveness of the Civil War, to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday and an annual celebration.
‘Thanks’ to The Woman Who Helped Make a November Thursday Special, Todd Bookman, November 28, 2013, Heard on All Things Considered.
“Five Fascinating Details About the Media Mogul Who May Have Written ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’” Erin Blakemore, Smithsonian.com, May 24, 2016