Sarah Josepha Hale Thanksgiving Letter

Sarah Josepha Hale to President Abraham Lincoln, 1863

Sarah J. Hale to Abraham Lincoln, Monday, September 28, 1863
Sarah J. Hale to Abraham Lincoln, Monday, September 28, 1863. Library of Congress

Sarah Josepha Hale was the editor in the 19th century of a very popular magazine for women, Godey's Lady's Book.  Also credited with writing the children's poem "Mary Had a Little Lamb," she wrote about style for women and their place in the home.

She also promoted the idea of Thanksgiving as a national holiday to unify the nation in the time of the Civil War. She wrote about the proposal in her magazine.  She lobbied President Lincoln to issue a proclamation of the holiday.  Below is a letter that she wrote as part of that campaign.

Note that she uses the term "editress" for herself in signing the letter.

Sarah J. Hale to Abraham Lincoln, Monday, September 28, 1863 (Thanksgiving)

From Sarah J. Hale [1] to Abraham Lincoln, September 28, 1863

Philadelphia, Sept. 28th 1863.


Permit me, as Editress of the "Lady's Book", to request a few minutes of your precious time, while laying before you a subject of deep interest to myself and -- as I trust -- even to the President of our Republic, of some importance. This subject is to have the day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.

You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.

Enclosed are three papers (being printed these are easily read) which will make the idea and its progress clear and show also the popularity of the plan.

For the last fifteen years I have set forth this idea in the "Lady's Book", and placed the papers before the Governors of all the States and Territories -- also I have sent these to our Ministers abroad, and our Missionaries to the heathen -- and commanders in the Navy. From the recipients I have received, uniformly the most kind approval. Two of these letters, one from Governor (now General) Banks and one from Governor Morgan[2] are enclosed; both gentlemen as you will see, have nobly aided to bring about the desired Thanksgiving Union.

But I find there are obstacles not possible to be overcome without legislative aid -- that each State should, by statute, make it obligatory on the Governor to appoint the last Thursday of November, annually, as Thanksgiving Day; -- or, as this way would require years to be realized, it has ocurred to me that a proclamation from the President of the United States would be the best, surest and most fitting method of National appointment.

I have written to my friend, Hon. Wm. H. Seward, and requested him to confer with President Lincoln on this subject As the President of the United States has the power of appointments for the District of Columbia and the Territories; also for the Army and Navy and all American citizens abroad who claim protection from the U. S. Flag -- could he not, with right as well as duty, issue his proclamation for a Day of National Thanksgiving for all the above classes of persons? And would it not be fitting and

patriotic for him to appeal to the Governors of all the States, inviting and commending these to unite in issuing proclamations for the last Thursday in November as the Day of Thanksgiving for the people of each State? Thus the great Union Festival of America would be established.

Now the purpose of this letter is to entreat President Lincoln to put forth his Proclamation, appointing the last Thursday in November (which falls this year on the 26th) as the National Thanksgiving for all those classes of people who are under the National Government particularly, and commending this Union Thanksgiving to each State Executive: thus, by the noble example and action of the President of the United States, the permanency and unity of our Great American Festival of Thanksgiving would be forever secured.

An immediate proclamation would be necessary, so as to reach all the States in season for State appointments, also to anticipate the early appointments by Governors.[3]

Excuse the liberty I have taken

With profound respect

Yrs truly

Editress of the "Ladys Book"

[Note 1 ID: Sarah J. Hale, a poet and novelist, became editor of the Ladies' Magazine in 1828. In 1837 the Ladies' Magazine was sold and became known as the Lady's Book. Hale served as editor of the Lady's Book until 1877. During her tenure as editor, Hale made the magazine the most recognized and influential periodical for women. Hale was involved in numerous philanthropic pursuits and used her position as editor to advocate the education of women.]

[Note 2 Nathaniel P. Banks and Edwin D. Morgan]

[Note 3 On October 3, Lincoln issued a proclamation that urged Americans to observe the last Thursday in November as a day of thanksgiving. See Collected Works, VI, 496-97.]

Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois.
Courtesy Library of Congress.