Sarah Hale Campaigned 17 Years For Our National Thanksgiving Holiday

Sarah Hale was one of America’s original tastemakers. As co-editor of the enormously successful Godey’s Lady’s Book, she was the Victorian Era’s Martha Stuart and Oprah combined. Hale used the power of her pen to promote many issues, particularly surrounding women’s rights. One of her pet causes was the creation of an official day to give thanks.  Sarah Hale campaigned 17 years for our National Thanksgiving Holiday.

Hale began her Thanksgiving campaign in 1846. She wrote letters to five presidents over 17 years as well as multiple editorials for Godey’s Lady’s Book. In 1863, with America in the middle of the Civil War, Hale finally succeeded. Her letter to Abraham Lincoln convinced him that a National Thanksgiving Holiday could go a long way toward uniting people in shared gratitude.

Thanksgiving had been celebrated in America since the 1600s, primarily in New England.  It was a recognized tradition, but it was not  a national day until Lincoln proclaimed it.  Secretary of State William H. Seward penned the document that set the date of the National Thanksgiving Holiday on the last Thursday in November.

Sarah Hale And Godey’s Lady’s Book

Godey’s Lady’s Book was one of the most successful women’s magazines of its day. It was published from 1830 to 1898. Hale was the co-editor with owner Louis A. Godey from 1837 to 1877. When she first started, the magazine had 0nly 10,000 subscribers. By 1860, the number jumped to 150,000 with an estimated readership of more than a million.

The magazine was known for its articles on domestic arts including cooking, needlepoint, interior decorating, music and fashion. They became tastemakers in domestic architecture, publishing plans that were copied across the nation.

Godey’s Lady’s Book was known for its hand-tinted fashion illustration plates. Sarah Hale opposed the plates as frivolous. But Louis Godey made them a hallmark of each issue. As it turned out, they were one of the most popular features of the publication.

The magazines were expensive for the time at $3 per year. But subscribers definitely got their money’s worth. Each issue was hand made and bound and of course, included the hand painted fashion plates.

Godey’s Lady’s Book Became A Trendsetter

Godey’s Magazine and the editors that created it were definitely trendsetters in America. The plates influenced fashion in many ways. One of the most important of those was the abandonment of tight corsets, which Sarah Hale rightly saw as health hazards.

Hale revered Queen Victoria, who she held up as a role model of the modern woman. (Queen Victoria was certainly one of the most prominent working moms of her day.)

Trends were also set regarding holidays. Of course there was the creation of the National Thanksgiving Holiday in America that was largely promoted through the magazine. Another trend Hale promoted was Queen Victoria’s white wedding. At least in part thanks to the influence of Godey’s Lady’s Book, white became the best color for brides.

Sarah Hale also promoted decorating an indoor Christmas tree just as the Royal Family did.

Sarah Hale’s Literary Influence

Largely under Sarah Hale’s guidance, Godey’s evolved into an important literary magazine. She became known for her editorials, like the series she wrote promoting a National Thanksgiving Holiday.

Each issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book included poetry, fiction and non-fiction by known as well as emerging writers. Over the years, they published pieces by Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving and Oliver Wendell Holmes–to name a few.

Sarah Hale, An Advocate Of Women’s Rights

Sarah Hale was a schoolteacher. She was self-educated, largely through her brother who attended Dartmouth. Hale was widowed with five children at the age of 39. She turned to writing to support her family. Like so many great women in history, she was determined not only to survive, but to thrive.

She published several novels and a book of poetry, Poems For Our Children. One of her most famous was “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” This was the piece Thomas Edison spoke on his newly invented Phonograph. She moved to Boston to edit the Ladies Magazine from 1828 to 1836.

Hale actively worked on many causes including:

-property rights for married women

-the first day school for children

– equality in women’s wages

-better working conditions for women

-eradication of abuses in child labor

– organization of Vassar college

In many ways, Sarah Hale paved the way for women like Nellie Bly who picked up her causes where she left off.

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