Letter to the Editor - Nov. 24

November 24, 2011

Few know the woman who saved Thanksgiving

To the editor:

This week, we celebrate Thanksgiving Day. But how many of us know the story of Sarah Josepha Hale — the woman who saved Thanksgiving?

She was born in 1788.  Stories she heard from her father, a disabled Revolutionary War veteran, made a deep impression on her, giving her a love for her country. She married in 1813 and had five children, but was soon widowed. She began writing to help support her family — first poems and novels — and later became editor of Ladies Magazine.

In 1830, she wrote the famous and much-loved poem, “Mary had a Little Lamb,” based on a true-life event from her time as a schoolteacher. Over time, Hale became a champion for women’s rights. She helped found Vassar College and raised money to preserve Mount Vernon and Bunker Hill. In 1825, Hale began a 38-year letter-writing campaign to have Thanksgiving declared a national holiday.

The stories of the Pilgrims’ feast had almost been forgotten. She started at the top — with the president. President Zachary Taylor said no. Millard Fillmore also said no. But Sarah kept writing. She began a state-by-state campaign.  President Franklin Pierce said no, and so did President James Buchanan.

Now America was torn by civil war. Some states that had instituted a day of Thanksgiving were no longer holding the celebration. Hale’s 38-year campaign seemed hopeless, but she picked up her pen and wrote once more — to President Abraham Lincoln, who agreed, and in 1863 made Thanksgiving a national holiday.

The Thanksgiving we celebrate today is based on a historical tradition of some of our earliest immigrants — coming to America to seek a new life, to seek freedom of religion and freedom of expression — who acknowledged the providence and grace of God. They held a feast, each bringing something from their own tables, each donating what little they had so that everyone could share in something. They hoped and believed that their descendants would build communities of justice, peace and prosperity.

Even in the midst of the great Civil War, Sarah Hale and Abraham Lincoln caught that vision. Let us reach out our hearts and hands and catch it today.  

The Rev. Anne Weatherholt

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