The Mother of Thanksgiving

The Mother of Thanksgiving

America’s Thanksgiving national holiday doesn’t go directly back to Plymouth Rock. It’s due to the persistence of Sarah Josepha Hale (1788 – 1879). Mrs. Hale was a poet, a novelist, and the influential editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book magazine. She was a New Englander by birth, and thought everyone in the USA should celebrate that region’s Pilgrim founders the way they did it in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Sarah Josepha Hale also wrote cookbooks, and described a New England Thanksgiving meal in her novel Northwood. The menu includes roast turkey, sirloin of beef, leg of pork, loin of mutton, bowls of gravy, plates of vegetables, a goose, a pair of ducklings, chicken pie, plates of pickles, preserves and butter, wheat bread, plum pudding, custards, pumpkin pie, rich cake, sweetmeats and fruits, currant wine, cider and ginger beer.

Mrs. Hale wrote editorials to champion national adoption of the regional holiday, and sent letters pestering Presidents Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan about it. She finally convinced Abraham Lincoln by pitching a national Thanksgiving holiday as a way to reunite North and South after the Civil War, and he issued a proclamation establishing it in 1863. Thanksgiving was moved from the 4th to the 3rd Thursday of November by FDR in 1939.

Please pass the chicken pie.


“The Godmother of Thanksgiving: the story of Sarah Josepha Hale,”  Peggy M. Baker, Pilgrim Society & Pilgrim Hall Museum

“How Thanksgiving, the ‘Yankee Abolitionist Holiday,’ Won Over the South,” Robert Moss, Serious Eats

“Did Lincoln Start Thanksgiving?” National Park Service


Short link:

Image (The Sarah Josepha Hale bobblehead is from the NH Historical Society ) by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht,

Comments are welcome if they are on-topic, substantive, concise, and not boring or obscene. Comments may be edited for clarity and length.

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