Sarah Josepha Hale

The relentless efforts of Sarah Josepha Hale at age 75 ultimately made Thanksgiving a national holiday.

Thanks to one senior citizen this year marks 157 years since Thanksgiving became a national holiday. 

At 75, Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, pressed her campaign for all states to jointly give thanks for life’s blessings despite the ongoing tragedies and losses of the Civil War. 

Hale, the author of, “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” continued her 15-year crusade and called it to the attention of President Abraham Lincoln.

She wrote on Sept. 28, 1863: “I have written to my friend, Hon. Wm. H. Seward, and requested him to confer with President Lincoln on this subject … would it not be fitting and patriotic for him (Lincoln) to appeal to the Governors of all the States, inviting and commending these to unite in issuing proclamations for the last Thursday in November as the Day of Thanksgiving for the people of each State? 

“Thus, the great Union Festival of America would be established.”

Amid wartime disunity, Lincoln contemplated Hale’s request only briefly before addressing the nation on Oct. 3, proclaiming Thanksgiving as a means to draw all citizens together in unification. 

In a speech written by William Seward, his Secretary of State, Lincoln declared, “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.”

In 1864, Lincoln issued a second Thanksgiving Proclamation and prompted citizens to take the lead in giving gratitude. 

George W. Blunt, a New Yorker, wrote to Lincoln and offered to supply a Thanksgiving meal to Union troops – starting the tradition of lavish foods with poultry and pies or puddings, all cooked and ready for use.

 It would be a grand sight to see that army of brave men, loyal to the flag, feeding on the good things of the land they have fought for.

In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt attempted to boost the U.S. economy near the end of the Great Depression, and in doing so, changed the date of Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November. 

This was eventually (and permanently) reversed in 1941.