Editorial: Giving thanks for dedication to the American family
When we think of Thanksgiving, there are certain images that come to mind, cemented by a lifetime of cartoons and storybooks, advertisements and artwork, kindergarten construction paper hats and paper plate hand turkeys.
We associate it with a Norman Rockwell picture of bounty and family. The people it calls to mind are somber Pilgrims and benevolent Native Americans, the characters cast in our partially historical, partially apocryphal national legend of that first coming-together feast of plenty in 1621.
What we don’t tend to think about? Journalists. Lobbying. A woman with a vision and a president in the midst of a war.
But those are the real building blocks behind America’s annual family dinner.
Sarah Josepha Hale was a writer and the editor of “Godey’s Lady’s Book,” a women’s magazine that might have been the “Cosmopolitan” or “Marie Claire” of the 19th century. Hale, then, was the Anna Wintour or the Arianna Huffington of her day. But her interest wasn’t fashion and her platform wasn’t feminism or activism.
Hale was passionate about the American family. She felt that one way to improve our national moral fiber was to take one day a year and sit down, hold hands, break bread and give thanks. She used her pen to advocate for that.
In 1837, the first of her editorials calling for a national Thanksgiving holiday was published.
“It is a festival which will never become obsolete, for it cherishes the best affections of the heart — the social and domestic ties. It calls together the dispersed members of the family circle and brings plenty, joy and gladness to the dwellings of the poor and lowly,” Hale wrote.
She took up the cause year after year, lobbying each state governor to enshrine the holiday and moving on to urging presidents to make the last Thursday in November “the fixed time for this American jubilee.”
Abraham Lincoln did so at last in 1863, two years into the Civil War.
“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies,” he wrote in his proclamation. “It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.”
The holiday may commemorate a way two different sides came together for a celebration at the start of what would become our nation, but it was the culmination of 26 years of work by a woman with a goal who didn’t take no for an answer.
“For one day, the strife of parties will be hushed, the cares of business will be put aside and all hearts will join in common emotions of gratitude and goodwill. We may even hope that for one day, war itself will cease by common consent.”
Well said, Mrs. Hale.