How Sarah Josepha Hale Became the 'Mother of Thanksgiving'

A painting of Sarah Josepha Hale by James Reid Lambdin, circa 1831.
A painting of Sarah Josepha Hale by James Reid Lambdin, circa 1831.
Richard's Free Library, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Since religion was such an important part of early colonial life, community-wide days of thanksgiving weren’t uncommon. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress started co-opting the tradition to celebrate certain key battle victories on a nationwide scale. In September 1789, Congress asked President George Washington to designate a day of thanksgiving for another political reason: to mark the formation of the U.S. Constitution. On October 3, Washington decreed that November 26 of that year would be a “day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

It didn’t officially create an annual holiday, but many states did continue celebrating Thanksgiving sometime in late fall or early winter in the years that followed. Throughout the 19th century, one woman in particular stood out as Thanksgiving’s biggest fan: Sarah Josepha Buell Hale.

Who was Sarah Josepha Buell Hale?

A painting of Sarah Hale by W.H. Chambers, engraved for Godey's Lady's Book by W.G. Armstrong in December 1850.Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division // No Known Restrictions on Publication

Hale was born in New Hampshire in 1788 and homeschooled by parents who thought women deserved an education. She showed a clear aptitude for writing, and when her husband died in 1822, she used those skills to provide for her five young children. After publishing a collection of poems and an anti-slavery novel called Northwood in the mid-1820s, Hale took a job as the editor of a women’s magazine later known as Godey’s Lady’s Book. Though she wasn’t exactly a feminist by today’s standards—she underscored women’s domestic duties and opposed women’s suffrage—she did champion women’s right to education and supported other up-and-coming female writers, like Harriet Beecher Stowe and Lydia Maria Child. She’s also credited with authoring (or at least editing) the nursery rhyme “Mary’s Lamb,” which we now know as “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Hale’s most avid readers no doubt noticed another cause that she often mentioned in her work: the importance of making Thanksgiving a national holiday. As a New Englander, Hale had grown up celebrating Thanksgiving, and she paid homage to it with a scene in her novel Northwood. In addition to roast turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie, the feast also featured beef, mutton, goose, duck, and “a huge plum pudding, custards, and pies of every name and description ever known in Yankee land.” The holiday cropped up in other poems, short stories, and editorials that Hale published over the years, too. “[God] has saved, enlarged, blessed, and prospered us beyond any people on this globe. Should we not be thankful, and keep high holiday of gratitude and gladness in acknowledgment of these national blessings?” she wrote in November 1859.

For Hale, the holiday wasn’t simply about giving thanks to God; it was also about fostering national unity. The country had grown from 13 colonies to around 30 states by the mid-1800s, and Hale saw Thanksgiving as a way to collapse the physical distance between families.

“[Though] the members of the same family might be too far separated to meet around one festive board, they would have the gratification of knowing that all were enjoying the feast. From the St. Johns to the Rio Grande, from the Atlantic to the Pacific border, the telegraph of human happiness would move every heart to gladness simultaneously … ” Hale wrote in an 1851 editorial.

How Thanksgiving Became a National Holiday

Sarah Hale's letter to Abraham Lincoln regarding Thanksgiving, 1863.Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress Manuscript Division // Public Domain

Eventually, Hale realized that getting all the governors to agree to celebrate Thanksgiving on the same day, which she thought should be the last Thursday in November, might take a presidential proclamation. On September 28, 1863, she wrote to President Abraham Lincoln asking him to issue one. “You may have observed that … there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution,” she wrote [PDF].

Scarcely a week later, Lincoln did issue a proclamation inviting the entire nation to observe Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November. We don’t know if Hale’s letter caused him to take immediate action. For one, Lincoln made his declaration on October 3, the anniversary of Washington’s original Thanksgiving proclamation of 1789. Also, the Civil War had ravaged countless families throughout 1863, and it’s possible that Lincoln had already thought a year-end national day of thanks would inspire hope and resilience. The proclamation itself echoes this sentiment, asking people to “implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore … peace, harmony, tranquility, and union” [PDF].

But even if Hale’s one letter didn’t directly bring about a proclamation, her lifelong crusade to promote Thanksgiving in every home definitely helped popularize the holiday. And though she died in 1879—more than 60 years before President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed a resolution to make the holiday official—her legacy as the “mother of Thanksgiving” lives on today.

10 Reusable Gifts for Your Eco-Friendliest Friend

Disposable tea bags can't compete with this pla-tea-pus and his friends.
Disposable tea bags can't compete with this pla-tea-pus and his friends.

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By this point, your eco-friendly pal probably has a reusable water bottle that accompanies them everywhere and some sturdy grocery totes that keep their plastic-bag count below par. Here are 10 other sustainable gift ideas that’ll help them in their conservation efforts.

1. Reusable Produce Bags; $13

No more staticky plastic bags.Naturally Sensible/Amazon

The complimentary plastic produce bags in grocery stores aren’t great, but neither is having all your spherical fruits and vegetables roll pell-mell down the checkout conveyor belt. Enter the perfect alternative: mesh bags that are nylon, lightweight, and even machine-washable.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Animal Tea Infusers; $16

Nothing like afternoon tea with your tiny animal friends.DecorChic/Amazon

Saying goodbye to disposable tea bags calls for a quality tea diffuser, and there’s really no reason why it shouldn’t be shaped like an adorable animal. This “ParTEA Pack” includes a hippo, platypus, otter, cat, and owl, which can all hang over the edge of a glass or mug. (In other words, you won’t have to fish them out with your fingers or dirty a spoon when your loose leaf is done steeping.)

Buy it: Amazon

3. Rocketbook Smart Notebook; $25

Typing your notes on a tablet or laptop might save trees, but it doesn’t quite capture the feeling of writing on paper with a regular pen. The Rocketbook, on the other hand, does. After you’re finished filling a page with sketches, musings, or whatever else, you scan it into the Rocketbook app with your smartphone, wipe it clean with the microfiber cloth, and start again. This one also comes with a compatible pen, but any PILOT FriXion pens will do.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Food Huggers; $13

"I'm a hugger!"Food Huggers/Amazon

It’s hard to compete with the convenience of plastic wrap or tin foil when it comes to covering the exposed end of a piece of produce or an open tin can—and keeping those leftovers in food storage containers can take up valuable space in the fridge. This set of five silicone Food Huggers stretch to fit over a wide range of circular goods, from a lidless jar to half a lemon.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Swiffer Mop Pads; $15

For floors that'll shine like the top of the Chrysler Building.Turbo Microfiber/Amazon

Swiffers may be much less unwieldy than regular mops, but the disposable pads present a problem to anyone who likes to keep their trash output to a minimum. These machine-washable pads fasten to the bottom of any Swiffer WetJet, and the thick microfiber will trap dirt and dust instead of pushing it into corners. Each pad lasts for at least 100 uses, so you’d be saving your eco-friendly friend quite a bit of money, too.

Buy it: Amazon

6. SodaStream for Sparkling Water; $69

A fondness for fizzy over flat water doesn’t have to mean buying it bottled. Not only does the SodaStream let you make seltzer at home, but it’s also small enough that it won’t take up too much precious counter space. SodaStream also sells flavor drops to give your home-brewed beverage even more flair—this pack from Amazon ($25) includes mango, orange, raspberry, lemon, and lime.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Washable Lint Roller; $13

Roller dirty.iLifeTech/Amazon

There’s a good chance that anyone with a pet (or just an intense dislike for lint) has lint-rolled their way through countless sticky sheets. iLifeTech’s reusable roller boasts “the power of glue,” which doesn’t wear off even after you’ve washed it. Each one also comes with a 3-inch travel-sized version, so you can stay fuzz-free on the go.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Countertop Compost Bin; $23

Like a tiny Tin Man for your table.Epica/Amazon

Even if you keep a compost pile in your own backyard, it doesn’t make sense to dash outside every time you need to dump a food scrap. A countertop compost bin can come in handy, especially if it kills odors and blends in with your decor. This 1.3-gallon pail does both. It’s made of stainless steel—which matches just about everything—and contains an activated-charcoal filter that prevents rancid peels and juices from stinking up your kitchen.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Fabric-Softening Dryer Balls; $17

Also great for learning how to juggle without breaking anything.Smart Sheep

Nobody likes starchy, scratchy clothes, but some people might like blowing through bottles of fabric softener and boxes of dryer sheets even less. Smart Sheep is here to offer a solution: wool dryer balls. Not only do they last for more than 1000 loads, they also dry your laundry faster. And since they don’t contain any chemicals, fragrances, or synthetic materials, they’re a doubly great option for people with allergies and/or sensitive skin.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Rechargeable Batteries; $40

Say goodbye to loose batteries in your junk drawer.eneloop/Amazon

While plenty of devices are rechargeable themselves, others still require batteries to buzz, whir, and change the TV channel—so it’s good to have some rechargeable batteries on hand. In addition to AA batteries, AAA batteries, and a charger, this case from Panasonic comes with tiny canisters that function as C and D batteries when you slip the smaller batteries into them.

Buy it: Amazon

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10 Cozy Pajama Sets for Christmas Morning


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Christmas morning is always exciting, but it’s even more fun when you get to wake up wearing brand-new pajamas. We’ve combed the internet to find 10 pajama sets and slippers that will make this year’s Christmas one for the books (or the family Christmas card).

1. Fa La La Llama Pajama Pants; $24

Lazy Ones/Amazon

These punny pajamas pants are available in matching sizes for your whole family—even your dog! Get the matching pajama shirt here, or find other variations designed for men, children, and babies.

Buy it: Amazon

2. The Grinch Onesie; $23-$45

Dr. Seuss/Amazon

Not everyone is full of cheer or pep on Christmas morning. If you’re more of, well, a grinch during the holiday season, let your pajamas reflect your inner mood. This fuzzy onesie comes in sizes for women, men, children, and toddlers, making them a perfect gift for the whole family.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Christmas Elf Slippers with Bell; $23


“These slippers require a certain person to wear them,” says one reviewer. To pull these off, you need to have an unconditional love for Christmas, the reviewer says, and you can’t be afraid of occasional laughs. But you’ll definitely stand out from the crowd (and have super cozy feet!).

Buy it: Amazon

4. 2020 Pajama Set; $10-$25

Fudule Christmas/Amazon

Nothing says 2020 quite like an illustration of Santa in a mask, carrying a gift bag full of hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, and toilet paper. Commemorate this extremely unusual year with a pajama set that’s available in sizes for women, men, children, and babies. In true 2020 form, each pajama set also comes with a matching fabric mask.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Custom Photo Pajamas; $38


Design your own personalized pajamas for a gift that your family is certain to remember for years to come. Using Amazon’s customization feature, you can upload any picture of your choosing—whether it’s an adorable photo of a family pet or a wacky snapshot of yourself. But if personalized pajamas aren’t your style, we’ve also compiled a list of 10 other customizable gifts that might be more up your alley.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Snowman Onesie; $35

Silver Lilly/Amazon

With its stretchy wrist and ankle cuffs and attached red scarf, this super-soft onesie will keep you from getting frosty on cold winter nights. It’s available in four unisex sizes, but reviewers recommend sizing up if you’re in between two options.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Matching Family Santa Pajama Set; $21-$54

Pajama Graham/Amazon

Turn every member of your family (including your pets!) into a doppelgänger of jolly old Saint Nicholas himself. These pajamas are made from 95 percent cotton and 5 percent spandex jersey, meaning they'll be super soft to wear all day long. Add a Santa hat and a faux beard to complete the look.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Ugly Christmas Santa Slippers; $20

Ugly Christmas Slippers/Amazon

These goofy slippers pair well with any set of Christmas pajamas. Plus, the soft faux fur and cushioned padding make them super cozy for trips around the house.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Let it Snow Color-In Pajamas; $40

Uncommon Goods

Creative kids will love being able to color their own pajamas. This polyester shirt and pant set comes with seven markers and a practice coloring sheet so kids can work out their designs before moving over to the fabric. To set the colors, an adult will need to iron the set right after coloring and air cure flat for 24 hours.

Buy it: Uncommon Goods

10. Sloth Onesie; $36-$45

Alexander Del Rossa/Amazon

This cozy fleece onesie is perfect for the person who tends to feel a little sleepy and slothful on Christmas morning. With a drawstring hoodie and two cozy pockets, this onesie will keep you so warm and snug that you won’t want to move at all. Are you in search of other gifts for the sloth fan in your life? Check out our list here.

Buy it: Amazon

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