It’s Not about Indians and Pilgrims

Every Thanksgiving I remember Sarah Josepha Hale for good reason — not only because she is one of my heroes and the person who inspired my masters thesis — in fact, she was the reason I went to grad school –but because SHE is the founder of Thanksgiving. 

Who was she? She was — for more than 30 years (in the 19th century) — the editor of the most successful popular periodical in the world at the time: Godey’s Lady’s Book. She had a clear, tactful yet insistent voice and was able to gather popular support for many of her ideas and projects — including Vassar College, the Bunker Hill Monument, Mount Vernon National Monument, and helping Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor in the US, get into medical school. She employed Edgar Allen Poe as her literary editor, and her magazine was the first to publish literature ONLY by American writers. She wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb” for her own little girl who was named Mary and who did have a little lamb that went to school with her. She wrote an anti-slavery novel long before Harriet Beecher Stowe came out with Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

For YEARS she had pushed for a national day of thanksgiving, but it was not until 1863, when the US was in the middle of a civil war, that she was able to get the President to take the idea seriously. Her argument to Lincoln was that the people on this continent needed a reason to stop what they were doing and reflect on what brought Americans together.

From Sarah Josepha Hale, “Editor’s Table,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1858


“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.

More interesting reading about Sarah Josepha Hale here, on The Gad About Town.

3 thoughts on “It’s Not about Indians and Pilgrims

  1. Thanks for the history lesson. I, for one, had never heard of this remarkable woman. It’s fascinating how some people, like Hale, have so much “Royal Jelly” that they can leave behind such a huge legacy.

    I think many people need to be reminded about the part that says “the pledge of renewed love to the Union, and to each other; and of peace and good-will to all men”.

    • Me too, Joanne. It’s so weird to me how when someone gets the “real history” fetish, it’s almost always about something dark, an axe to grind, something to get the hackles up.

      There are thousands of “Sarah Hales” in history who did great things in their lifetimes, in their world that we take completely for granted. We look back at history with blinders on. Sarah Hale knew Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the right to vote movement. She didn’t oppose it, but she didn’t fight for that. She fought for education for women. Back then, women couldn’t go to college. She fought for better medical care for women. She fought for all the things she thought her world was ready for and was very successful. I just love her. 🙂

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