Thanksgiving: One’s Woman Relentless Quest for the Great American Festival


Thanksgiving has a rich history in the American Colonies and the Republic. One of the colorful historical facts is about a woman named Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, and her quest to have the nation to observe “The Great American Festival of Thanksgiving” of the 1800s.

Sarah Josepha Hale, painted by James Reid Lambdin (1807-1889). Richard’s Free Library, Newport, New Hampshire.
Sarah Josepha Hale, painted by James Reid Lambdin (1807-1889). Richard’s Free Library, Newport, New Hampshire.

This New Englander woman was self-educated and became a beloved poet and novelist; an excellent teacher; an influential writer and magazine editor; a women’s advocate for equal education; abolitionist; and humanitarian.  She wrote the beautiful nursery rhyme Mary Had A Little Lamb (published May 24, 1830).

Most of all, this remarkable woman was a true patriot whose love for her country shone through her writings and life.  Sometimes, the written word and the life of the writer are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but this was not the case for Sarah.  She lived what she wrote.

Her greatest campaign began in 1846 to have Thanksgiving become a national day of thanksgiving and appreciation for the blessings on her beloved country.  It would take until 1863 for her dream to see fruition.

Her letter to President Abraham Lincoln is below.  Her tireless work for the good of her fellow men, women and children was her legacy to her generation.

This Thanksgiving season take a moment to remember Sarah and your heritage as an American.  Heritage is an essential component of a nation.  It’s the bedrock on which future generations will embrace their destiny.  Without heritage and remembrance a generation is lost to its roots and its destiny.

Have a great Thanksgiving!  Remember to do something for those in your community who may need a bit of help this season to enjoy their Thanksgiving.

Sarah’s Letter:

Philadelphia, September. 28th 1863.


Permit me, as Editress of the “Lady’s Book”, to request a few minutes of your precious time, while laying before you a subject of deep interest to myself and—as I trust—even to the President of our Republic, of some importance. This subject is to have the day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.

You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution. Enclosed are three papers (being printed these are easily read) which will make the idea and its progress clear and show also the popularity of the plan.

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 in the Navy. From the recipients I have received, uniformly the most kind approval.

Two of these letters, one from Governor (now General) Banks and one from Governor Morgan are enclosed; both gentlemen as you will see, have nobly aided to bring about the desired Thanksgiving Union. 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 occurred to me that a proclamation from the President of the United States would be the best, surest and most fitting method of National appointment.

I have written to my friend, Hon. Wm. H. Seward, and requested him to confer with President Lincoln on this subject. As the President of the United States has the power of appointments for the District of Columbia and the Territories; also for the Army and Navy and all American citizens abroad who claim protection from the U. S. Flag—could he not, with right as well as duty, issue his proclamation for a Day of National Thanksgiving for all the above classes of persons?

And would it not be fitting and patriotic for him to appeal to the Governors of all the States, inviting and commending these to unite in issuing proclamations for the last Thursday in November as the Day of Thanksgiving for the people of each State? Thus the great Union Festival of America would be established. Now the purpose of this letter is to entreat President Lincoln to put forth his Proclamation, appointing the last Thursday in November (which falls this year on the 26th) as the National Thanksgiving for all those classes of people who are under the National Government particularly, and commending this Union Thanksgiving to each State Executive: thus, by the noble example and action of the President of the United States, the permanency and unity of our Great American Festival of Thanksgiving would be forever secured.

An immediate proclamation would be necessary, so as to reach all the States in season for State appointments, also to anticipate the early appointments by Governors. Excuse the liberty I have taken.

With profound respect

Yours truly,

Sarah Josepha Hale, Editress of the “Ladys Book”

 G. D. Williams © 2013

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Abraham Lincoln and Sarah Josepha Hale
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The Godmother of Thanksgiving: The Story of Sarah Josepha Hale

Proclamation of Thanksgiving October 3, 1863

Did Lincoln Start Thanksgiving?

President Lincoln’s proclamation may have never been issued had it not been for Sarah Josepha Hale.

Mrs. Hale is known for her work as editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, and as the author of Mary Had a Little Lamb. She also played a role increating the annual national holiday of Thanksgiving Day.

In 1827, as editor of Boston’s Ladies’ Magazine, she began to write essays calling for the national holiday. In 1846, as editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, Mrs. Hale launched a letter-writing campaign to support her cause. Finally on September 28, 1863, she wrote directly to President Lincoln, asking him to use his powers to create the holiday. Her 36-year quest was finally fulfilled.

Library of Congress

Recipes: Traditional To Vegetarian

Previous Posts on Thanksgiving:

November 23, 2012: After Thanksgiving Reflection

Thanksgiving: A Reflection

Thanksgiving: Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation

Thanksgiving: George Washington’s Proclamation