Mother of the American Thanksgiving

As we all prepare to gather with family and friends for our Thanksgiving feast, I thought it would be nice to pay tribute to Sarah Josepha Hale, the mother of the American Thanksgiving holiday. Sarah was the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book. An influential writer, she was the author of the Nursery Rhyme, Mary Had a Little Lamb. An advocate for women’s education, especially higher education, she also helped in the founding of Vassar College.

Thanksgiving was largely a regional holiday, celebrated first in the New England colonies and then spreading across the country. Back then, each state scheduled its own holiday, some as early as October and others as late as January; it was largely unknown in the American South.

Hale began her national lobbying efforts to make Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1846, a quest that lasted for 17 years. During that time she wrote to five U.S. Presidents, starting with Zachary Taylor and moving on to Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and then Abraham Lincoln. Her letter to Lincoln finally convinced the president to support legislation establishing a national holiday of Thanksgiving in 1863. It was considered a unifying day after the Civil War. Prior to this, the only national holidays in the United States were Washington’s Birthday and Independence Day.

The following is taken from Sarah Josepha Hale, “Editor’s Table,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1858
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.

 

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