In the last edition, we learned about proclamations of prayer and thanksgiving. Today, we will learn about the unstoppable force that motivated Abraham Lincoln to issue the proclamation which created the federal holiday celebrating the feast of Thanksgiving.
In this day and age of the hypothetical “war on women,” it is helpful to draw upon examples in U.S. History when women played a key role. And this is definitely one such example. Did you know that one of the most influential of all magazine editors of the 1800’s was a woman? Did you know that we have that same woman to thank for establishing a holiday which celebrates the relationship created between the Pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag nation. While both of those facts may be true, you can bet if Thanksgiving is celebrated at all in your child’s school there will certainly be no mention of Sarah Josepha Hale. It is, therefore, my pleasure to fill you in about the good Mrs. Hale’s accomplishments and efforts.
Who was Sarah Josepha Hale? Born in New Hampshire in 1788, you most likely have heard a certain nursery rhyme she authored. That would be “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and that would be enough of a legacy for most. But Sarah Josepha Hale was so much more. Educated by her mother, her brother, her husband and herself, Sarah Josepha Hale was a poet, a novelist, as well as an abolitionist and an advocate of certain rights for women. When her husband suddenly died of a stroke, Sarah was left with 5 very young children when she was only 34 herself.
This, of course, was during a time when women were not professionals, empire builders, or thought to be able to complete with men in the workplace. Many widows relied on charity, ran home based buisnesses, performing tasks such as spinning and weaving, or ran charity schools. While things were slowly beginning to change because of industrialization, women were still clearly religated to meek and subservient roles. Sarah hoped she could support her family of six with her mind and a pen. She began by with collection of poems she had written. At that time, women authors were few and far between. Sarah sought assistance from members of the her husband’s Free Masons lodge. The book, published in 1823, carried the rather taunting title The Genius of Oblivion. It was in the second poetry collection, Poems for Our Children, published in 1830 which contained “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Before the second collection was published, she published a novel in 1827 entitled Northwood: Life North and South. It was in this novel, which included rich contextual descriptions of New England life that we can first see Sarah’s fascination with Thanksgiving.
The novel contained chapters entitled a Thanksgiving Sermon, as well as a Thanksgiving Dinner. The dinner that she detailed was characteristic of many Thanksgiving dinners served in New England. Let’s learn about what Sarah thought to include in the feast that was prepared without the modern benefits of life: “And now for our Thanksgiving dinner. A long table, formed by placing two of the ordinary size together, was set forth in the parlor; which being the best room, and ornamented with the best furniture, was seldom used, except on important occasions. The finishing of the parlor was in a much better manner than that of any other apartment in the house; the wood work was painted cream color, and the plaster walls ornamented with paper hangings of gay tints and curious devices…The table, covered with a damask cloth, vieing in whiteness, and nearly equaling in texture, the finest imported, though spun, woven and bleached by Mrs. Romilly's own hand, was now intended for the whole household, every child having a seat on this occasion; and the more the better, it being considered an honor for a man to sit down to his Thanksgiving dinner surrounded by a large family. The provision is always sufficient for a multitude, every farmer in the country being at this season of t…