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Mother of Thanksgiving: Sarah Josepha Hale


Thanksgiving Day has a mother, a proper Victorian women, arguably one of most powerful magazine editors in the mid-1800s–Sarah Josepha Hale, who for forty years ceaselessly campaigned for the establishment of a National Thanksgiving, at a time when Americans had only two national holidays to celebrate: Washington’s birthday in February and the Fourth of July. “These are patriotic and political,” she wrote, “Are not the sounds of war borne on the breezes of those festivals? . . . .Should not the women of America have one festival in whose rejoicings they can fully participate?” Her relentless efforts finally resulted in President Lincoln resuming a precedent established by Presidents Washington, Adams, and Madison of issuing a Proclamation of Thanksgiving, “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”  In

1876, the centennial anniversary of the United States, Hale wrote: “It is a holiday especially worthy of our people. All its associations and all its influences are of the best kind. It unites families and friends. It awakens kindly and generous sentiments. It promotes peace and good-will among our mixed population . . .”   As for the origins of Thanksgiving that we celebrate today, they cannot be directly traced to the inspiration of a single historical event, such as the 1621 Pilgrim and Indian feast. The true story involves multiple influences–two very old traditions and the activism of  Sarah Josepha Hale–that were finally officially recognized by an act of Congress in 1941. The Sarah Josepha Hale bobblehead is labeled “Mother of Thanksgiving”  Here’s a link to discussion questions for two of my books: Thanksgiving: The True Story and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World.

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