Most people don’t know the history of Thanksgiving beyond the story of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians sitting down as friends to celebrate the harvest of 1621 after a long, difficult winter. [As an aside, the sons of the Wampanoag Chief Massasoit, Alexander and Phillip would die at the hands of the colonists 54 years later during one of the bloodiest battles between “friends.”] But that story veers away from my warm and fuzzy post about Sarah J. Hale so, let’s just focus on the origins of Thanksgiving.
Sarah J. Hale was truly an independent woman in her own right. After her husband died in 1822, she turned to writing in order to garner an income for her family, and she was very successful at it. She used the pages of several publications to further her belief that women should be given an equal education to a man. She was very good at making her points without alienating anyone by advocating that women should be in the home, but an education should be a focus in her upbringing. [of course at the time, there were no daycares, microwaves, grocery stores with dozens of food aisles, so someone had to run the household. So the concept of a woman working in the home made complete sense]
New England celebrated Thanksgiving all of Sarah’s life and she felt strongly it should be part of a national tradition. As editor of Godey’s Ladies Book, one of the most influential publications in the 19th Century, she wrote a series of articles called on the President and Congress to make Thanksgiving a national holiday.
She wrote to Lincoln, who needed something to help bring the country back together. In 1863, he agreed and release his Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1863. Hale’s campaign is largely credited with the effort.
For the next 76 years, each president would declare a certain day Thanksgiving. It was always the last Thursday in November, until…1939, when Franklin D. Roosevelt, pressured by retailers and declared the date to be November 23, 1939, one week earlier than usual in order to extend the shopping season. He tried it for two years and then admitted his mistake. In December 1941, Congress passed a bill establishing the last Thursday of November as the official Thanksgiving holiday.