America Needs to Thank Sarah for Thanksgiving

And also for the most popular nursery rhyme

The smell of apple pies and the sight of a well-roasted turkey, a holiday where families travel afar to be together for this one day.

Who am I to explain more about this holiday, dear reader. Because the truth is I live in South Asia and my knowledge of how Thanksgiving is celebrated is attained from the shows I watch on Netflix.

While I may hardly know about this day, I know a tiny bit about its history which you probably don’t.

Something which left me awestruck.

The woman behind this national holiday is Sarah Joseph Hale. A women's’ rights activist and a poet. I bet you’ve heard her poem or even sang it a few times.

She composed Mary Had a Little Lamb.

Born in 1788, she was an advocate of women’s independence and education rights. She was a feminist, after all, she’s been educated since an early age during the time it was uncommon for women to study.

She published nearly 50 volumes of work which included novels, short stories, cookbooks, and poems.

In 1828, she became the editor, or how she preferred being called as an editoress for Godey Lady’s Book.

She wrote for a column for forty years, until she retired at 89 and consequently made this journal one of the most read journals of 19th century.

Now, Thanksgiving goes back to 1600s. However, it wasn’t until 1862 that it became a national holiday and a tradition to be celebrated across the United States.

All thanks to this woman.

The Big Question — How did she do it?

  • One technique: writing
  • Two platforms: her column, and letters to the President(s)

Column Writing

She wrote poems about thanksgiving, and about families assembling. She emphasised on a nation’s unison to celebrate this one big day together.

Sarah knew that the trick to selling is by making people feel emotions.

She further detailed the image in her readers’ mind that on this day, families dine together, roast turkey, prepare pumpkin pie and sweet potato pudding.

Now imagine doing this for almost 40 years.

Readers’ of the most read journal were getting conditioned to make this holiday exist. It’s a day to pay thanks, to spend time with family, it calls for a celebration.

Here is an excerpt from one of her first write-ups:

…might, without inconvenience, be observed on the same day of November, say the last Thursday in the month, throughout all New England; and also in our sister states, who have engrafted it upon their social system. It would then have a national character, which would, eventually, induce all the states to join in the commemoration of ‘Ingathering,’ which it celebrates. It is a festival which will never become obsolete, for it cherishes the best affections of the heart — the social and domestic ties. It calls together the dispersed members of the family circle, and brings plenty, joy and gladness to the dwellings of the poor and lowly.”

Doesn’ this make you feel warm, fuzzy, and supportive?

As mentioned on History Channel’s website,

The outbreak of war in April 1861 did little to stop Sarah Josepha Hale’s efforts to create such a holiday, however. She continued to write editorials on the subject, urging Americans to “put aside sectional feelings and local incidents” and rally around the unifying cause of Thanksgiving.

Image for post
Photo by Andrew Buchanan on Unsplash

Letter Writing Campaign

She launched a letter-writing campaign to the members of Congress.

She wrote to 5 presidents during the course of this time. Let's look at the Presidents who bluntly denied her proposition to make Thanksgiving a National Holiday:

  • Zachary Taylor
  • Millard Fillmore
  • Franklin Pierce
  • James Buchanan

If you want to learn about hard work, perseverance, being true to your mission and not giving up on your dream — now is the time.

And then, she wrote to President Lincoln. Sources say that her letter mentioned:

America needed Thanksgiving, now more than ever, she wrote. A holiday wouldn’t stop the war, but it could help bring the country together.

On September 28, 1863, she managed to convince President Abraham Lincoln.

The results

President Lincoln signed it off as a national holiday on October 03, 1769, as the last Thursday of November.

His explanation to this as published in newspapers was,

“in the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, the American people should take some time for gratitude.”

Post this, Sarah tried to make this into a national law through Congress. However, she passed away in 1879.

It was 60 years later when President D. Roosevelt signed a resolution passed by Congress to set the fourth Thursday of November as Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday.

To Conclude

  1. This Thanksgiving (and each one thereafter), thank Sarah for all the labour she’s put in for you to celebrate.
  2. Create a vision, and run after it.
  3. Rejection is inevitable and can last for years and decades. Yet, it has chances to make history.
  4. Be consistent, keep doing what you have to to get what you want. There really is no other way.
  5. It’s okay to stand up when the world is against you. In this case, Sarah revolted at a time when women were instilled to stay silent.

Written by

Globe trotter | Health Enthusiast | Professional Writer

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