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Thanksgiving has a mother

Thanksgiving Day has a mother, a proper Victorian woman, arguably one of most influential magazine editors in the 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?”

In 1863, 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." (Left image: Bobblehead of Sarah Josepha Hale, Mother of Thanksgiving.")

I included the next image in my book, Thanksgiving: The True Story. The caption in my book reads: "Thanksgiving Day has had many meanings throughout American history. Four years after the Civil War, Thomas Nast, a famous and influential political cartoonist, created this cartoon titled 'Uncle Sam's Thanksgiving Dinner.' Two symbols of America are depicted at the ends of the table. Uncle Sam carves the turkey, and Columbia, a mythic female figure that symbolizes America, sits between an African American and a Chinese man. People from other countries and a Native American man are seated around the table. At the bottom of the cartoon, Nast expresses the meaning of his Thanksgiving Day cartoon "Come One Come All" and "Free and Equal."

Sarah Josepha Hale was a woman of many accomplished. (Right image: Historical marker in Newport, New Hampshire.) Born in 1788, she was pregnant with her fifth child when her husband died. “I was left poor,” she later wrote. After a failed attempt as a seamstress, Sarah Josepha Hale turned to writing. Her first novel, Northwood: Or, a Tale of New England was successful and led to her being hired as the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book.  

In Northwood, she described the foods of Thanksgiving, a holiday that in the early1800s was mostly celebrated in New England (with the date varying from October to early January)—turkey, gravy, stuffing, chicken pie, pumpkin pie, pickles, and cakes and preserves. 

During my growing up, my immigrant mother, married to a New Englander, continued that menu, minus the chicken pie, pickles, cakes and preserves. Today our Thanksgiving menu is far more deliciously diverse: Haitian Black rice and peas made by our daughter-in-law Nickie is now on our menu!

Happy Thanksgiving to you all, my dear readers!

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