The Woman who is Responsible for Thanksgiving


While most Americans probably have no idea who she was, Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) can be seen as the mother of our modern Thanksgiving celebration. 

In 1864, the Newport, New Hampshire native had become the “editress” 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 that our nation’s first President, George Washington, had gotten it right when he decided that November 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, Sarah proposed that churches use donations collected during a day of Thanksgiving be used to help emancipate the slaves so that 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, Sarah Josepha Hale was able to persuade President Abraham Lincoln to proclaim a national Day of Thanksgiving every fourth Thursday of November, beginning in 1864. 

Mr. Lincoln’s proclamation is a striking one.  

It read, in part: “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.” 

Today, we continue in this wonderful tradition of honoring God on Thanksgiving Day. 

However, the effort to purge our nation of its Christian heritage is accelerating. That is why it is important for parents and grandparents to ensure that our children understand the historic significance of people like Sarah Josepha Hale.  It is imperative that kids know of Abraham Lincoln’s important 1864 proclamation.  And it is crucial that they be reminded of Gov. William Bradford’s 1621 proclamation for the Pilgrims in the New World to “render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.” 

This is our heritage.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time for teaching our children about our nation’s Christian legacy.  We need to ensure that we are countering the intense disinformation campaigns by making certain that our children are equipped with the truth of our nation’s history. This Thanksgiving, I encourage you to share the story of Sarah Josepha Hale with your family.

Alex McFarland

Alex has preached in over 2,200 churches throughout North America and numerous more internationally. He also speaks at Christian events, conferences, debates, and other venues to teach biblical truths and preach the gospel.

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