Writers have to be versatile. In addition to cranking out our masterpieces, we work day jobs, parent, teach, write greeting cards and advertisements, waitress, bar-tend, edit, blog, and etc. This is nothing new. One of the main advocates for Thanksgiving, as we know it, was a writer.
Sarah Josepha Hale was born in New Hampshire. When she was 34, her husband died, leaving her with five young children. Funded by the Freemasons, her first book of poems, The Genius of Oblivion, was published in 1823, beginning her life in letters. Throughout her long career she wrote novels, poems, and children’s books. She was even better known as an editor, editing a woman’s magazine that published the writings of some of America’s best writers (men and women). She was hugely influential on women of her era and politically active in liberal causes.
Her first novel, Northwood, was about the immorality of slavery. It was in that novel that she described a Thanksgiving dinner at length in mouth watering detail (especially if you are not a vegetarian), giving special mention to roasted turkey and pumpkin pie.
While Thanksgiving was primarily a New England holiday, celebrated on different days in different states, Hale was one of the most vocal supporters for establishing it as a national holiday. She wrote letters to five presidents in a row. On October 3rd, 1863, Abraham Lincoln (no mean writer himself) instituted the holiday: “The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible.” (Dibs on The Habitually Insensible Heart for a book title). He proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday, celebrated each year on the last Thursday of November.
So we have Sarah Josepha Hale partly to thank for the holiday, as well as for the nursery rhyme “Mary had a Little Lamb.” And like so many of us, she was a multi-tasker.