Beliefnet
The Queen of My Self

Sarah Josepha Hale was born on a farm in 1788 in Newport, New Hampshire. Her early education was provided by her mother and her brother Horatio who taught her what he had learned at Dartmouth. Later on, Hale was self-taught. She married David Hale, a young lawyer, in 1813 who was a supporter of her continued education. Together with friends they started a small literary club and Hale began experimenting with writing.

In 1822 her husband died suddenly leaving her with five children to support. In order to help her raise funds, her friends published an anonymous collection of her poetry, The Genius of Oblivion and Other Original Poems. The modest success of this volume allowed Hale to write a novel, Northwood, which also met with success. Northwood was striking in that it dealt directly with the issue of slavery.  

In 1828 she was hired to edit Ladies’ Magazine, the first American women’s magazine. She moved her family to Boston and took up the helm. Under Sarah Hale’s scrupulous editorial standards Ladies’ Magazine solicited work from female contributors, published only original material, and printed articles that were meant to improve the lives of her readers.

Her next position was editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book after Godey purchased Ladies’ Magazine. In 1837 she moved to Philadelphia and made Godey’s the leading American women’s literary and fashion periodical for the following four decades until she retired at 90. She was one of the most famous women of her time and an important and influential arbiter of American taste. She was an Oprah before her time.

“Next to genius is the power of feeling where true genius lies.”

Hale was a strong advocate for a number of causes. She consistently advocated education, exercise, property rights, and sensible fashion for women. Her championship of education for women began with her editorship of Ladies’ Magazine and continued until she retired. She is credited with helping make the founding of Vassar College acceptable to a public unaccustomed to the idea of women’s education.

Throughout her long, productive career, Hale was tireless in her championship of the advancement of women. She supported Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell’s bid to become a physician, as well as the attempts of women to become overseas missionaries. She did not join the suffragists’ call for women to enter the political arena but rather concentrated on the education and development of women.

What matter though the scorn of fools be given
If the path follow’d lead us on to heaven!

Sarah Hale wrote many novels and poems, publishing nearly fifty volumes of work by the end of her life. Her collection Poems for Our Children includes the now-famous “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, which was published in 1830 as “Mary’s Lamb.”

In addition to all her other contributions to society, Sarah Hale was responsible for making Thanksgiving a national holiday, an effort that she began in 1827.

“We have too few holidays. Thanksgiving like the Fourth of July should be considered a national festival and observed by all our people. There is a deep moral influence in these periodical seasons of rejoicing, in which whole communities participate. They bring out . . . the best sympathies in our natures.”

Hale felt that the spiritual dimension of Thanksgiving could help to prevent the insanity of civil war in America. As the hostilities heated up between North and South and the prospect of war became more immediate she bombarded both national and state officials with requests for the national holiday.

Sarah Hale doggedly wrote thousands of these letters in her own hand over a period of 36 years to five presidents: Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln. “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 of the United States?” Hale wrote in an 1859 editorial.

She finally found a sympathetic ear in Lincoln. In 1863 as the Civil War ravished the land President Lincoln issued his now famous Thanksgiving Proclamation in which he honored America’s blessings, even in its darkest hour.

And so it came to pass that Americans celebrate Thanksgiving together on the fourth Thursday of November each year, thanks to Queen Sarah Josepha Hale.

Grace isn’t a little prayer you chant before receiving a meal. It’s a way to live.
– Jackie Windspear

Queen Sarah died in 1879 at the age of ninety-one, a role model to the women of her time, and to us, as well.

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The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

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