Sarah Hale | Mother of American Thanksgiving

sarah hale

Sarah Hale led the establishment of an annual national day of Thanksgiving in America. 

Many of us know basic facts about the origins of Thanksgiving. In 1621, Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts, held a three-day feast. They invited the Wampanoag tribe and their chief, Massasoit, to celebrate their survival and successful harvest 

Since then, leaders called for occasional days of Thanksgiving. It wasn’t until the 19th century that an annual day of Thanksgiving was established.   

Sarah Hale: Defender of Tradition 

In her own day, Sarah Hale (1788–1879) was quite the celebrity. 

Hale was a New England poet. Her most famous work poem, “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” is still recited by youngsters. She became a writer to support herself and her five children after her husband died. 

Her literary accomplishments led to her appointment as the editor of a women’s magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book. Under her management, the magazine quickly became one of the country’s most popular magazines. In addition to her editing skills and business insight, Hale wrote columns for 40 years. 

Hale was a social reformer. Although she was a staunch abolitionist, she championed women’s traditional roles as wives and mothers and opposed women’s vote. Though criticized as too formal, Hale was “perhaps the most widely known and most influential woman of her time.” 

Hale also advocated restoring historical sites. Through her advocacy, she helped preserve George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon. She tirelessly solicited money for the Bunker Hill Monument. 

Sarah Hale: The Mother of Thanksgiving 

Through articles and letters, Sarah Hale lobbied politicians to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Though New Englanders had long celebrated the occasion, Thanksgiving was not celebrated by the rest of the country. 

In 1789, George Washington declared a day of national Thanksgiving to honor the American Revolution’s victory and the Constitution’s passage. John Adams and James Madison did likewise during their presidencies. But otherwise, American leaders showed little interest in this celebration until 1863. 

During the Civil War, Hale wrote to President Lincoln. She asked him to establish a national day of Thanksgiving. In his proclamation, Lincoln named the last Thursday of November as “A National Day of Thanksgiving and Praise.” On this day, Lincoln asked Americans to pray that God would care for the widows, orphans, and mourners and to heal the nation’s wounds. 

As a result, Sarah Hale earned the nickname of the “Mother of Thanksgiving.” 

Thanksgiving Can Heal National Wounds 

Lincoln’s hopes for that first official Thanksgiving should be our hope as well. If we are to continue as a free nation, we must not depend on politicians to unite us. Instead, individuals must bridge that gap, reach out to people who hold opposing viewpoints, and be grateful to be citizens of the United States. 

We still have the rights and liberties that are as natural to most Americans as breathing. Some of those liberties are under attack, but when in our history was this not the case? Like our ancestors, we must defend and fight for those rights; otherwise, they will vanish. But on Thanksgiving, we can pause to treasure them. 

Finally, we can use Thanksgiving Day as a teaching moment. Peter W. Wood wrote: “A citizen should grow up knowing we are a free people under the rule of law. A citizen should know that it is not some happy accident but the result of an immense effort over many generations. It was the work of courageous men and women who pursued principle even when the situation seemed hopeless.” 

May we have the same courage and virtues as our predecessors. 

Via Jeff Minick,  

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