Friday, November 26, 2021

The Woman Behind Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation

 By Cindy Regnier

Sarah Josepha Hale
 Yesterday, most Americans celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday, the day we traditionally eat a turkey dinner and give thanks for the blessings we have and will receive. I’m sure you learned in school about the First Thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims and Indians. You probably also learned that then President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863. 
Lincoln's proclamation

Mr. Lincoln is sometimes referred to as the Father of Thanksgiving, but have you ever heard of the Mother of Thanksgiving? Her name is Sarah Josepha Hale. Mrs. Hale doesn’t have a mention alongside President Lincoln in most history books, but she was nevertheless an integral part of the 1863 proclamation.

Civil War
The Civil War Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863
came at great cost to this nation and it was mentioned in Lincoln’s proclamation as follows: I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, …to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving... And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him …, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

Even so, it probably didn’t come to his mind to make this declaration because of the battle or even the story of the Pilgrim’s feast, It was, in fact, the result of the prodding of Sarah Josepha Hale, best known for her role as the editor of Godey's Lady's Book, 

and as the author of the nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb. As early as 1827 as editress (as she preferred to be called) of Boston Ladies Magazine, Mrs. Hale wrote essays calling for Thanksgiving to be celebrated as a national holiday. By 1946 as editress of Godey’s she called for a letter-writing effort by readers to initiate the undertaking. She wrote to Presidents Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan in her attempts. Finally on September 28, 1863, 36 years after she began her quest, she wrote to President Lincoln pleading for this holiday to be established.

With this “bug in his ear” and the aftermath of Gettysburg fresh in his mind, President Lincoln succumbed to the many requests he had received from Sarah’s supporters and directed his Secretary of State, William Henry Seward,
William Henry Seward

to write the proclamation. The new national holiday was considered a unifying day after the stress of the Civil War. Before Thanksgiving's addition, the only national holidays in the United States were Washington's Birthday and Independence Day. Hale's efforts earned her the nickname "Mother of Thanksgiving".

Bunker Hill Monument

Mrs. Hale supported many causes in her tenure as editress of Godey’s including founding the Seaman's Aid Society and working to preserve Mount Vernon. She raised funds for the Bunker Hill Monument, wrote poetry and prose and established what would now be called a craft fair, Boston’s Quincy Market. Hale advocated for the economic independence of women focusing on the education and development of women She remained the editor of Godey's Lady's Book until it was sold, in 1877. She died in 1879 at the age of ninety-one.

Sarah Hale monument Newport, NH
Enjoy your turkey leftovers and with a nod to Sarah Josepha Hale, let me know your favorite Thanksgiving tradition. Mine is all the leftovers!

 Scribbling in notebooks has been a habit of Cindy Regnier since she was old enough to hold a pencil. Born and raised in Kansas, she writes stories of historical Kansas, particularly the Flint Hills area. Cindy is married to her husband of 38 years, has two grown sons, a son residing in heaven, and two beautiful daughters-in-law. Her experiences with the Flint Hills setting, her natural love for history, farming and animals, along with her interest in genealogical research give her the background and passion to write heart-fluttering historical romance.


  1. Thanks for posting, and for reminding me about Sarah Hale. I never remember her role in the holiday until I read it again, usually here on this blog. So thanks for that! My favorite part of Thanksgiving is the people I spend it with. I wouldn't care if we ate peanut butter and jelly if we were just able to be together!

  2. I could go for peanut butter and jelly on Thanksgiving. Sounds easier than turkey!

  3. This is very interesting, Cindy. I enjoy reading about women's lives in a man's world.

  4. I had forgotten about this letter writing campaign. Thanks for sharing. My favorite tradition is playing a variety of games after the big feast. So fun.

    1. That is a great time for games and family! Thanks a bunch for stopping by!

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