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Sarah Josepha Hale. Photo: public domain

“Mother of Thanksgiving” inspired Abraham Lincoln to declare national holiday

As Americans eat turkey and watch football today, they can thank Sarah Josepha Hale, who is considered the mother of the modern Thanksgiving celebration.

In 1864, the Newport, N.H., native was editor of a respected publication known as “Godey’s Lady’s Book.” In her prominent position, the young widow and mother of five was able to communicate with many American women. She believed the nation’s first president, George Washington, had gotten it right when he decided that Nov, 26, 1789, should be a day for all countrymen to participate in a day of worship to praise God for his blessings.

In her novel Northwood: A Tale of New England,” Hale proposed that churches use donations collected during a day of Thanksgiving to help emancipate the slaves so all Americans could live free. Later, through a series of petitions to national politicians and a string of editorials, she began to gain some momentum for a national Thanksgiving Day. Through her diligent work, she was able to persuade President Abraham Lincoln to proclaim a National Day of Thanksgiving every fourth Thursday of November, beginning in 1864.

Lincoln’s proclamation read:

“It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year, defending us with his guardian care against unfriendly designs from abroad, and vouchsafing to us in his mercy many and signal victories over the enemy, who is of our own household. It has also pleased our Heavenly Father to favor as well our citizens in their homes as our soldiers in their campus, and our sailors on the rivers and seas, with unusual health.

“Moreover, he has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage and resolution sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions.

“Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow citizens, wherever they may be then, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent creator and ruler of the universe.”

–Dwight Widaman


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