Sarah Josepha Hale, Mother of Thanksgiving

This year marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation establishing the 4th Thursday in November as the official National Day of Thanksgiving, a move he hoped would help “heal the wounds of the nation” following the War Between the States.

In a conversation last week, I stated my desire for our own Thanksgiving to include expressions of gratitude for our blessings. Someone very dear to me responded with a comment about the supposedly wrong ideas we’ve been taught about the pilgrims, Indians, and the first Thanksgiving. None of us were there to observe what happened then. But we can’t deny that from the very beginning of European settlement in this country, Americans have paused to thank God when he has led us through times of crisis.

During the American Revolution, Continental Congress issued a number of proclamations setting aside days for thanksgiving following some major battles of the war. When George Washington was inaugurated as first president, he proclaimed a national day of thanks for both the end of the war and the ratification of the new U.S. Constitution. John Adams and James Madison issued similar proclamations during their presidencies. Thomas Jefferson feared that doing so would interfere with the separation of church and state, so no formal proclamations were issued after 1815.
However, most states continued to celebrate a Thanksgiving holiday, although not all on the same day.

Sarah Josepha Hale, a well known writer, editor and crusader for women’s issues, edited the influential magazine, “Godey’s Lady’s Book,” for over 40 years. She wrote pieces urging the establishment of a national day of thanks on the last Thursday in November. She believed the holiday would be a unifying measure that could help the growing divisions between North and South. She continued to advance the cause throughout the Civil War, and when the war ended, President Lincoln asked Secretary of State William Seward to draft such a proclamation. The President issued the proclamation in the fall of 1863.

At the age of 72, after 3 decades of lobbying, Sarah Josepha Hale (and the United States of America) had her national holiday. She is sometimes called the “Mother of Thanksgiving” because of her tireless efforts.

Both President Lincoln and Sarah Hale believed that people who realize their dependence upon God are the people God blesses. As we gather to celebrate this Thanksgiving Day, let’s remember to be grateful for our forebears’ sacrifices and for the blessings God continues to shower upon us.

Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation