One Woman's Persistence on Thanksgiving

by Liz Sykes | November 27, 2013

Was the first Thanksgiving really held by pilgrims shortly after the Mayflower anchored at Plymouth?

Texans claim the first Thanksgiving in America was proclaimed in Palo Duro Canyon by Padre De Cadilla for Coronado’s troops in 1541, 79 years before the pilgrims.

At any rate, Thanksgiving as an annual national holiday was slow in coming. Throughout American history some leaders issued Thanksgiving proclamations, some did not. Many were against it for various reasons and Thanksgiving was an on-again, off-again affair……until Sarah Hale got hold of it!

Sarah was a young widow with five children and a millinery shop. She used spare moments for writing and in 1823 her first book appeared. She was soon hired as editor of a small magazine, then in 1837 she was named editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, the nation’s foremost women’s magazine and circulation mushroomed.

Godey’s wasn’t a Christian magazine, but Sarah was a devout Christian who injected religious issues into her editorials. In 1846 she launched a crusade to establish Thanksgiving as a holiday. She wrote stirring editorials about it, and November issues featured Thanksgiving  poetry, stories and turkey recipes. She pelted politicians with personal letters on the subject and by 1859, 30 governors had agreed to a common day of Thanksgiving.

Still, no national holiday emerged and as America lurched toward civil war, Sarah tried a new tactic. In 1859 she wrote … “Disunion could be averted by Thanksgiving.  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.”

But war erupted in 1861 so in 1863 she wrote to President Lincoln laying before him a subject of “deep interest….the day of our annual Thanksgiving could be made a national and fixed union festival” The beleaguered president finally agreed and on October 3rd 1863, he established Thanksgiving as a national holiday for the last Thursday of November.

Lincoln then said, “Even in war we can count our blessings. They are gracious gifts of the most high God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, has nevertheless remembered mercy.”

This was adapted from a daily reading book entitled “On This Day” which is a great instructor of church history.