Sarah Josepha Buell truly was a shining star in the early days of our country; a driven young woman, smart and curious, she had an inquiring mind and a passion for writing. She was born on October 24, 1788, on a farm in Newport, New Hampshire.
Women were not accepted in the workforce then, and certainly not as teachers. However, this didn’t stop Sarah from founding a private school when she was 18 years old. She also wrote short stories and articles that she sold to local newspapers.
She left teaching to get married and start a family, but husband suddenly died in 1822. Sarah was left on her own to care for five children. She went back to teaching and writing and soon, she published her first book of poems, including the famous nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. In 1827, she published her first novel.
She eventually became the first woman editor of a magazine in the United States. Within a few years, she was the editor of the highly successful Godey’s Lady’s Book.
Her job as editor gave her a platform to promote an idea that was burning within her. She wrote hundreds of letters to governors, ministers, newspaper editors, and every U.S. president with that idea: She believed we should set aside the last Thursday in November to “offer to God our tribute of joy and gratitude for the blessings of the year.”
There had long been harvest festivals and services to give thanks in North America. But there had never been a national Thanksgiving holiday.
At the peak of the civil war, in 1863, her movement finally got people’s attention. She wrote a passionate editorial and sent it to President Abraham Lincoln, with a letter urging him to make Thanksgiving Day a national celebration.
Lincoln felt the holiday just might be a unifying force for good in his war-torn land. On October 3, 1863, he proclaimed the last Thursday of November to be National Thanksgiving Day. He ordered all government offices in Washington closed on that day.
Sarah Hale enjoyed many Thanksgiving celebrations after that. She died on April 30, 1879, at the age of 90.
About the Author
Len Wilcox is a retired scientist who also ran a newspaper and has written for agricultural publications since the 1980s. He was a regular contributor to California Farmer Magazine. His commentary “The Western View” is a regular feature on Farm City Newsday and AgNet West.