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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sarah Josepha Hale's Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving had been celebrated in New England for a couple of centuries before Sarah Josepha Hale fought to have it made a national holiday. She first came up with the idea in the 1820s, but it took 17 years of concentrated pestering beginning the 1840s, letters to five Presidents, as well as several governors, congressmen, and orchestrating a national letter-writing campaign, before President Lincoln signed the Executive Order in 1863 to make Thanksgiving a national American holiday, partly as an effort to find a common thread to unite the nation again.

Mrs. Hale shared Lincoln's enthusiasm for uniting the nation under common symbols. She also worked for the restoration of George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, as a similar symbol to unite North and South with a powerful reminder of our shared roots and shared national interests.

Sarah Josepha Hale was born in the Guild section of Newport, New Hampshire, as this historic market in Newport tells us. Her personal achievements are numerous, from teacher, to novelist, to editor of the prestigious 19th Century magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book, that there are many facets to her life we can discuss in future posts. For now, let us give thanks that she gave us a national Thanksgiving Day.

Below, an 1959 editorial, one of many she wrote, that expresses her still as yet unrealized dream of the Thanksgiving holiday.


"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.


John Hayes said...

Thanks for giving some recognition to Sarah Josepha Hale--I'm sure you know she also wrote "Mary Has a Little Lamb."

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Happy Thanksgiving to you, John. Yes, Mrs. Hale wrote "Little Lamb" and had her finger in a lot pies.

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