What does Mary Had a Little Lamb have to do with Thanksgiving?

So what does the popular children’s rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, have to do with Thanksgiving Day? The answer is Sarah Josepha Hale.

Sarah_Hale_portraitSo who was Sarah? She was a teacher, a writer, an editor (though she preferred the term “editress”), and the person most responsible for persuading Abe Lincoln to declare Thanksgiving to be a nationally recognized holiday.

As a writer, she found overnight success with her novel, Northwood: Life North and South, published in 1827. As such, Hale was one of the first successful American female authors, and the first to write about slavery in a novel. With the popularity of her novel, Hale was tapped by Reverend John Blake to be the editor for his journal, Ladies’ Magazine, from 1828 to 1836. In 1830, she published a collection of poetry for children, including “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, originally titled “Mary’s Lamb”.

In 1937, the owner of Godey’s Lady’s Book, Louis Antoine Godey, wanted Hale for its editor so he bought the Ladies’ Magazine and merged it with his own. As Godey’s had no significant competitors, Hale exercised considerable influence as the arbiter of style, fashions, even architecture. She remained editor of Godey’s until she was nearly 90 years old.

Around 1846, Sarah Josepha Hale began advocating for Thanksgiving to be a national holiday. At the time, Thanksgiving was celebrated primarily in New England, though states differed in when it was scheduled, and it was virtually unknown in the South. Hale petitioned five Presidents of the United States over 17 years before her pleas fell on Lincoln’s ears.

So in 1863, Lincoln supported legislation that made Thanksgiving a national holiday. It was considered a day of unification after the Civil War. And it was only the third national holiday to be recognized.

Thanks for joining me for this bit of historical fun. Now get back out there and eat some turkey! Happy (American) Thanksgiving!

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