Thank a Woman for Thanksgiving in the United States

Sarah Josepha Hale
Photo: Wikipedia

Many of us were taught in elementary school that the first Thanksgiving took place between the Pilgrims and Native Americans.

The holiday was recognized in 1789 by the newly inaugurated President George Washington, who called for a national day of thanks to celebrate the end of the Revolutionary War and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

John Adams and James Madison issued similar proclamations, but Thomas Jefferson felt that religious aspect of the holiday was not in keeping with the separation of church and state in the constitution, so there were no formal declarations issued after 1815.

According to “History,” although Secretary of State William Seward wrote it and Abraham Lincoln issued it, much of the credit for the Thanksgiving holiday should go to a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale.

Hale had written “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and helped found the “American Ladies Magazine.” She was the editor of “Godey’s Lady Book” for more than 40 years and advocate for women’s education, including the creation of Vassar College.

While at Godey’s, Hale used the platform to write editorials and articles about creating a fixed, national day of thanks in November.

According to “History,” “She believed that such a unifying measure could help ease growing tensions and divisions between the northern and southern parts of the country. Her efforts paid off: By 1854, more than 30 states and U.S. territories had a Thanksgiving celebration on the books, but Hale’s vision of a national holiday remained unfulfilled.”

When the Civil War broke out (one of the saddest in this country’s history, with estimates of anywhere between 620,000 to 850,000 soldiers dying from combat, by accident, starvation and disease), Hale continued to lobby for the holiday “urging Americans to ‘put aside sectional feelings and local incidents’ and rally around the unifying cause of Thanksgiving.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis issued Thanksgiving Day proclamations in 1861 and 1862.

Hale sent a letter to the President Lincoln in September 1863, and Seward drafted the president’s official proclamation fixing the national observation of Thanksgiving on the final Thursday in November. The two men hoped that it would help “heal the wounds of the nation.”

The L.A. Times carried a November 27 story “Letting Go of This Tradition: A Family Learns to Tell a New Thanksgiving Story,” written by Esmeralda Bermudez, who started her story “It’s hard to say when or how it started, but a few years ago my husband and I quit celebrating Thanksgiving.”

Basically her essay said after she had a child she felt a responsibility to teach her all the truths about the founding of this country—truths she was not taught.

As a child of immigrants, growing up on a Reservation, I feel Bermudez has missed the point of Thanksgiving and focuses entirely on how the Pilgrims were bad and the Native Americans were victimized.

That’s not what Thanksgiving is about—and most likely the little school play that so many elementary kids perform has nothing to do with what historically actually happened.

Could we all agree on this Thanksgiving, to be glad for what we have and express it, and to remember those who have died (thanks to Corpus Christi Monsignor Liam Kidney for this suggestion)? Can we put our political differences aside for the day and follow our town’s clergy in celebrating what we can do to make this a better world. . . . .just for one day?

Enough finger pointing and playing the blame game. Ask yourself, what is one thing I can do to make this world a better place?

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3 Responses to Thank a Woman for Thanksgiving in the United States

  1. Doug McCormick says:

    Sue, you are a gift to our community. We cannot be grateful enough for what you do to make this community a better place.

  2. Beatrice Prentice says:

    Dear Sue,
    What a splendid Thanksgiving newsletter.
    Every story in it warmed my heart.
    And to find out about the origin of Thanksgiving – Who knew????
    Have a beautiful and blessed Thanksgiving Day with all your loved ones along with my endless appreciation and respect from one of you fans over the years,
    Beatrice ( Bea) Prentice

  3. M says:

    Sue – ABSOLUTELY, well said.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

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