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How Thanksgiving Became a Federal Holiday


The first Thanksgiving by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris, 1932 | Image by Shutterstock

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Unbeknownst to many, Sarah Josepha Hale, the writer of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” is responsible for modern American Thanksgiving celebrations.

Hale was an American author and editor. In 1827, she released a book of poems containing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and a novel. After John Blake of Boston read Hale’s work, he hired her to edit the American Ladies Magazine which later became Godey’s Lady’s Book. Hale became the first woman editor in America.

Hale’s emergence into the then-male-dominated print industry proved her perseverance. However, her love of literature paled in comparison to her desire to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday.

For 17 years, Hale wrote hundreds of letters to governors, ministers, newspaper editors, and U.S. presidents with the request to reserve the final Thursday of November for Thanksgiving.

For all of her campaigning, her request fell on deaf ears until her letter, written on September 28, 1863, reached the desk of President Abraham Lincoln.

“Permit me, as Editress of the ‘Lady’s Book,’ to request a few minutes of your precious time, while laying before you a subject of deep interest to myself and – as I trust – even to the President of our Republic, of some importance. This subject is to have the day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival,” the letter read.

President Lincoln, faced with a war-torn country, sought to reunite the nation again. Upon reading Hale’s proposal, Lincoln announced his Thanksgiving proclamation five days later.

“I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”

Although President Lincoln urged Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving, it was not made a national holiday officially until 1870 when President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Holidays Act, which also established Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Independence Day as federal holidays.

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Patrick Moody
Patrick Moody
7 days ago

The history many want to deny.