Sarah Joseph Hale was born in New Hampshire in 1788. Her parents believed in education for both genders, so Sarah was home schooled but was largely self-taught.
She was one of the first women to publish both novels and poems. She wrote about the evils of slavery and how it was dehumanizing to both slaves and their owners. Perhaps she is best known for her poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. Her writing had an immense influence on American tastes and life.
She was an activist for women, long before other women activist became a national force. She was especially focused on women’s rights to higher education. She was instrumental in founding Vassar College.
Over her career she published 50+ books and numerous other written works. She also used her influence to see that other women authors were published.
She is known today as the person who established Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Originally Thanksgiving, if it was celebrated at all, was on different days in different states. In some cases, it was celebrated in early October and in other cases in January. Few southern states recognized Thanksgiving.
For 17 years, Sarah advocated for a single day to celebrate Thanksgiving. She wrote five Presidents urging them to recognize Thanksgiving on a common day. There were only two national holidays at the time: Washington’s Birthday and July 4th.
She was finally able to convince President Lincoln of the need for a common day for Thanksgiving. The President thought that a common day to give thanks would relieve some of the stresses of the Civil War. But Thanksgiving was slow to be accepted and didn’t catch on until after the Reconstruction Era. It wasn’t until 1941 that Congress established the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.
Not only did Sarah get a common day established, but she was largely responsible for the main item on the menu: turkey and stuffing.
As we sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, we may want to reflect on the determination of one woman for the designation of a national day for giving thanks. One person can make a different in bringing us together. That’s something we can all be thankful for.
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“We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.”– Harry Ironside (minister)