The Mother of Thanksgiving

Sarah Josepha Hale, 1831

By Julie Roys Published on November 21, 2018

She’s called the “Mother of Thanksgiving,” yet very few Americans even know her name. However, in 1863, when she prevailed on Abraham Lincoln to declare Thanksgiving a permanent national holiday, Sarah Josepha Hale was a household name.

This widowed mother of five was the “editress” — as she liked to be called — of Godey’s Lady’s Book. This popular magazine at one time had the largest subscription of any magazine in the United States. And, it was in its pages, through numerous editorials and articles that Hale lobbied for more than 30 years for an annual nationwide Thanksgiving celebration.

Humble Gratitude

Hale’s influence came at a critical time in America’s history. The nation was embroiled in a civil war. And Hale viewed Thanksgiving as the spiritual antidote to the turmoil of war. She wrote, “Let this day … be the grand Thanksgiving holiday … when the noise and tumult of worldliness may be exchanged for … the humble gratitude of the Christian heart.” She added that these “seasons of refreshing” could “greatly aid and strengthen public harmony of feeling.”

To Hale, Thanksgiving was a time for the nation to come together in peace and gratitude. But it also was a time for women to exert their civilizing influence on society. She was what historians call a “domestic feminist” and once wrote that women provide “the virtuous heart of the nation.” Unlike modern feminists who tend to degrade traditional women’s roles, Hale championed them. She believed that by tending their homes, women would nurture noble children, soften men’s hearts, and elevate the nation to a better place.

America’s Traditions and Beliefs

Hale encouraged women to develop their domestic skills — especially when it came to Thanksgiving. In the pages of her magazine, she gave readers Thanksgiving recipes for turkeys and pumpkin pies. She also wrote heartwarming stories of “old fashioned Thanksgivings,” describing families that triumphed over adversity. In doing so, Hale didn’t just inspire a national holiday; she also provided our nation with cultural traditions and beliefs.

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She also contributed to our nation’s conscience. Hale was an ardent abolitionist. And, in her 1827 novel called, Northwood: A Tale of New England, Hale calls for 40-thousand American churches to take up a collection for an observance called Thanksgiving. She then directs those funds be used to end slavery. Not only was Thanksgiving to be a day of feasting. Hale also intended that it be a day of sacrifice and generosity.

Modeling God’s Love

Hale’s story inspires me. It reminds me that tending a home and creating meaningful family celebrations isn’t a trite endeavor. It’s how we mothers mold the hearts and souls of our families, which then form the heart and soul or our nation. Ronald Reagan once said, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table,” and certainly that is true.

It’s around the dinner table that Hale discussed with her children the inherent worth of all human beings and urged them to end slavery. And today, it’s where my husband and I discuss this same principle with our children, urging them to end the great evil of abortion. It’s where we model God’s love, discuss current events, tell inspirational stories, ask questions, laugh, cry, pray and give thanks.

So, remember this Thanksgiving, you’re not just making a meal. You’re making a memory. You’re also imparting important Christian values to those you love.

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