Posted by: x | November 19, 2010

Sarah Josepha Hale

It’s Thanksgiving week!

Every day this week, I’ll share a little tidbit about this American holiday.

Most people know about the Pilgrims and the “First Thanksgiving.”

But how did it become an “official” holiday?

In 1863, right in the middle of our Civil War, President Lincoln gave his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, in which he stated the following:

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

We can’t really give President Lincoln the credit for coming up with this, though.

Like most great ideas, this one originated with a woman.

In 1822, Sarah Josepha Hale was a widow with five small children. Needing a steady income, she began to write — first publishing a book of children’s poems, and then a novel. Her work was so good that she was offered the job of editor of a literary magazine. As a writer and editor, she worked to educate women and campaigned for several causes over the years. Sarah Hale would not fit in with current day feminists, however, once writing, “not that they may usurp the situation, or encroach on the prerogatives of man; but that each individual may lend her aid to the intellectual and moral character of those within her sphere.”

One of the causes she championed was the establishment of a National Day of Thanksgiving. She wrote the following in 1858:

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.

She worked for this for 15 years, until finally writing a letter to the President in 1863, in which she stated the following:

For the last fifteen years I have set forth this idea in the “Lady’s Book”, and placed the papers before the Governors of all the States and Territories — also I have sent these to our Ministers abroad, and our Missionaries to the heathen — and commanders in the Navy. From the recipients I have received, uniformly the most kind approval.

But I find there are obstacles not possible to be overcome without legislative aid — that each State should, by statute, make it obligatory on the Governor to appoint the last Thursday of November, annually, as Thanksgiving Day; — or, as this way would require years to be realized, it has ocurred to me that a proclamation from the President of the United States would be the best, surest and most fitting method of National appointment.

The President agreed, and issued his proclamation just a few days later.

And now you know the whole story of our great American holiday.



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