Sarah Josepha Hale and Her Contributions to American Thanksgiving - Jack Righteous

Sarah Josepha Hale and Her Contributions to American Thanksgiving

Sarah Josepha Hale, a prominent American writer, editor, and influential figure in the pre-Civil War era, played a pivotal role in shaping one of America's most cherished traditions: Thanksgiving. Known for her authorship of the nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and as the editor of Godey's Lady's Book, Hale's legacy extends beyond literature into the very fabric of American culture and history.

Early Life and Career

Hale's journey began on October 24, 1788, in a time when women's roles were largely confined to the domestic sphere. She emerged as a leading literary figure, assuming the role of editor for the most widely circulated magazine of her time. Her contributions to American literature and culture were profound, establishing her as a significant figure in the early 19th century.

Campaign for Thanksgiving as a National Holiday

Perhaps her most enduring legacy is her 17-year campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Before her advocacy, Thanksgiving was sporadically celebrated, largely unrecognized in the American South. Beginning in 1846, Hale persistently wrote to presidents Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln to establish a unifying national holiday. Her efforts culminated in 1863 when President Lincoln, influenced by her compelling arguments, declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.

Christian Influence on Hale's Advocacy

Hale's Christian faith profoundly influenced her vision for Thanksgiving. She envisioned it as a day of gratitude and moral reflection, deeply rooted in Christian values. In her numerous writings, Hale emphasized the role of women in upholding Christian morality, seeing them as "God's appointed agents of morality." This perspective was instrumental in shaping her approach to Thanksgiving, infusing it with a spirit of thankfulness and moral rectitude.

Thanksgiving in the United States: A Historical Perspective

Before Hale's campaign, Thanksgiving was a disjointed affair, with states celebrating it at different times, if at all. Her efforts brought a sense of unity and national identity to the holiday, especially significant in the post-Civil War era. Thanksgiving became a symbol of reconciliation and a reminder of shared values and history.

Hale's Lasting Legacy

Today, Sarah Josepha Hale is celebrated as the "Mother of Thanksgiving." Her vision and relentless advocacy transformed Thanksgiving into a national holiday that encapsulates American values and Christian principles of gratitude and fellowship. Her influence extends beyond Thanksgiving, as she used her platform to uplift the historical memory of women, positioning them at the center of American history and Christian morality.


Sarah Josepha Hale's impact on American culture and society is immeasurable. As a writer, editor, and advocate, she shaped not only a national holiday but also the moral and cultural landscape of America. Her Christian faith and dedication to her cause remind us of the power of perseverance and the impact one individual can have on a nation's traditions and values.

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