When Americans observe the traditional Thanksgiving Day holiday this year, they will think of Pilgrims, Native Americans, football games, turkey, pie, travel, family and the traditional Thanksgiving Day Parade.
However, few people know that the Thanksgiving Day Holiday in America was also an attempt to abolish slavery and to prevent the American Civil War. The day is a reminder of a story of a remarkable women with an intelligence and foresight far ahead of her time.
"The Lady Editor," as Sarah Hale was affectionately called, advocated a national celebration of Thanksgiving as early as 1827. "We have too few holidays. Thanksgiving like the Fourth of July should be considered a national festival and observed by all our people" she wrote in her first book, a novel titled Northwood.
An idea that she often promoted was a letter writing campaign to churches asking them to raise money on a special day of thanksgiving to buy freedom for the slaves. She felt confidant that if she could even just get a day of thanksgiving to be recognized, "that the reflection alone would go a long way in ending this terrible institution".
To Sarah Hale, Thanksgiving would be a holiday of national contemplation. "There is a deep moral influence in these periodical seasons of rejoicing, in which whole communities participate. They bring out . . . the best sympathies in our natures."
Hale saw this spiritual dimension of Thanksgiving as a means for preventing the insanity of civil war in America. This is why, as hostilities heated up between North and South, she bombarded both national and state officials with requests for the national holiday.
She wrote in an 1859 editorial, "If every state would join in Union, Thanksgiving on the 24th of this month, would it not be a renewed pledge of love and loyalty to the Constitution of the United States?"
Of course, Sarah Hale was unable to avert those saddest years of American history. Still, By 1863 when Lincoln issued his now famous Thanksgiving Proclamation, Sarah Hale had penned literally thousands of letters requesting Thanksgiving Day in her own hand.
Finally, On October 3, 1863, by Presidential Order, Lincoln fulfilled Sarah Hale’s lifelong plea to have a “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival".
Sarah Josepha Hale was a writer, editor and a single mom. She is often referred to as the "Mother of Thanksgiving". There should be room at every table to honor her memory when giving thanks for what many of us consider to be our best national holiday.