Sarah J. Hale was the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, one of the most influential women’s magazines of the 19th century, and a prolific writer who published nearly fifty volumes of work throughout her life, including the nursery rhyme Mary had a Little Lamb. She is also the woman we have to thank for the establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday.
While Thanksgiving had been celebrated since the 1600′s not all states celebrated it and there was no set date. Hale began a one woman crusade to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Starting in 1837, Hale, a.k.a. the “godmother of Thanksgiving”, used the editorial pages of Godey’s to campaign for the holiday. In total, she lobbied no fewer than four U.S. presidents. Finally on October 3, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation making the last Thursday in November Thanksgiving Day.
Thanksgiving has evolved over the years, becoming a day of celebration for all Americans, of all faiths. The following was part of Hale’s long campaign to make Thanksgiving a nationally recognized day. Her writings offer a message that seems to be as current today as ever.
OUR NATIONAL THANKSGIVING
“All the blessings of the fields,
All the stores the garden yields,
All the plenty summer pours,
Autumn’s rich, o’erflowing stores,
Peace, prosperity and health,
Private bliss and public wealth,
Knowledge with its gladdening streams,
Pure religion’s holier beams –
Lord, for these our souls shall raise
Grateful vows and solemn praise.”
We are most happy to agree with the large majority of the governors of the different States – as shown in their unanimity of action for several past years, and which, we hope, will this year be adopted by all – that the LAST THURSDAY IN NOVEMBER shall be the DAY Of NATIONAL THANKSGIVING for the American people. Let this day, from this time forth, as long as our Banner of Stars floats on the breeze, be the grand THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY of our nation, when the noise and tumult of wordliness may be exchanged for the laugh of happy children, the glad greetings of family reunion, and the humble gratitude of the Christian heart. This truly American Festival falls, this year on the twenty fifth day of this month.
Let us consecrate the day to benevolence of action, by sending good gifts to the poor, and doing those deeds of charity that will, for one day, make every American home the place of plenty and of rejoicing. These seasons of refreshing are of inestimable advantage to the popular heart; and if rightly managed, will greatly aid and strengthen public harmony of feeling. Let the people of all the States and Territories sit down together to the “feast of fat things,” and drink, in the sweet draught of joy and gratitude to the Divine giver of all our blessings, the pledge of renewed love to the Union, and to each other; and of peace and good-will to all men. Then the last Thursday in November will soon become the day of AMERICAN THANKSGIVING throughout the world.