Sarah Josepha Hale, the founder of the feast

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - By Christina Tkacik ctkacik@balt­sun.com

The United States might seem like a tense place this Thanks­giv­ing sea­son, but in 1863, things were worse. For much of this coun­try’s his­tory, peo­ple only cel­e­brated Thanks­giv­ing spo­rad­i­cally, and just in parts of New Eng­land, not in the en­tire United States.

In the 1800s, one woman set out to change that. Sarah Josepha Hale was the New Hamp­shire-born edi­tor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, then one of the most widely cir­cu­lated mag­a­zines in the world.

Hale thought Thanks­giv­ing needed to be cel­e­brated on the same day through­out the United States. “Then, in­deed, the fes­ti­val will be na­tional, and joy and thank­ful­ness per­vade the whole land,” she wrote in a Godey’s edi­to­rial in 1848 ad­vo­cat­ing for the hol­i­day. She wrote about the is­sue to govern­ment of­fi­cials, to U.S. pres­i­dents and for Godey’s read­ers for 15 years.

Not much hap­pened, un­til she wrote to Abra­ham Lin­coln.

In a let­ter dated Sept. 23,1863, Hale urged Lin­coln to make Thanks­giv­ing “a Na­tional and fixed Union Fes­ti­val” on the fourth Thurs­day of Novem­ber.

Per­haps Lin­coln ad­mired Hale’s chutz­pah. Or per­haps he thought it would boost Union morale in the mid­dle of the Civil War. Within days, he is­sued a procla­ma­tion that ran in The Bal­ti­more Sun, among other news­pa­pers.

And so Thanks­giv­ing be­came an an­nual hol­i­day through­out the U.S. (In 1939, Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt moved it to the third, rather than the fourth Thurs­day in Novem­ber, to help boost hol­i­day sales.)

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