The Dancing Puritan

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Unknown Lady of Thanksgiving

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When Americans sit down to their Thanksgiving Day meal on Thursday, perhaps the Pilgrims and Indians will be a part of the talk around the table. It is doubtful that many will remember that 1621 was the year of that first Thanksgiving. If the discussion continues then Abraham Lincoln will, no doubt, be mentioned. His Thanksgiving proclamation of 1863 established the fourth Thursday in November as the National Thanksgiving Day.

There is a very important person who was instrumental in the establishment of a yearly National Thanksgiving Day. She is not now well known but was a giant in her day. She was a writer, editor, and ladies advocate on various fronts (especially education) She was instrumental in the preserving of Mount Vernon as a national memorial, she helped to send out the first women medical missionaries, she believed in physical fitness for ladies, and she was a homemaker and mother of five children. She was a widow. Her husband died when she was only 34 years old.

Assisted in publishing by some of her husband's friends she initially wrote two books of poems. The second book contained the famous children's poem, Mary Had a Little Lamb. Her writing career blossomed and eventually she became the editor of, what would become the most influential ladies magazine in America,--Godey's Ladies Book. She would serve as the editor of Godey's for almost fifty years. This publication contained everything from recipes, to moral fiction, to poetry, and advice on issues related to womanhood. It was also through Godey's that she gave her most public attention to the establishment of a national Thanksgiving Day.

She wrote an important novel, Northwood, in 1827.  In this novel she described life in New England in the early 1800's. It was also in this book that she advocated for a Thanksgiving festival.

We have too few holidays. Thanksgiving like the Fourth of July should be considered a national festival and observed by all  people.

In Northwood she devotes two chapters to Thanksgiving including sections on the Thanksgiving worship service. She describes in detail the food and decorations for the family celebration.

In 1846 she stepped up her efforts to promote a national Thanksgiving Day. It would take 17 years before President Lincoln would issue a proclamation for such a day (1863). During those preceding years she would write many hundreds of letters (by hand) along with her editorials, promoting Thanksgiving Day.

In 1853 in Godey's Lady's Book her vision became evident. She imagined a day where  ". . .millions of people sitting down, as it were, together to a feast of joy and thankfulness. . ." She also had a vision for the kinds of foods that would be enjoyed (such as duck, ham, pudding, and especially roasted turkey and pumpkin pie).

After many years of writing and promoting her passion for Thanksgiving and arguing for the benefits of such a day (reuniting family, remembering God's faithfulness, and strengthening the unity of the nation), she wrote a letter to President Abraham Lincoln requesting his consideration for such a day. The result is now the famous and beautifully written Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863.

It is a little known fact, these days, that the author of Mary Had a Little Lamb is to be given much credit for our national holiday. She was a homeschooled and self-educated young lady. She faced many challenges as a single mother with five children. Yet in the face of her challenges she took up a pen and became one of the most influential women of her generation and in all of American history.  Do you know her name?  Sarah Josepha Hale is the mother of our Thanksgiving Day. Why not bring her into your conversation on Thursday?

To learn more:
Family Worship for the Thanksgiving Season by Ray Rhodes, Jr. To order message us here.
The Lady of Godey's: Sarah Josepha Hale by Ruth Finley