Heroes - Lives to Learn From
Each month on the Core Virtues website, we feature the life of a hero or heroine – men and women who have tirelessly pursued excellence in their lives and helped improve the lives of others. We tie each month’s biography to the virtue of the month or to a theme suggested by the particular time of the year.
Gratitude, Wonder, Stewardship
Sarah Buell Hale (1788 -1879)
Writer, poet, and America’s first woman editor, Sarah Buell Hale is largely responsible for the celebration of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. The holiday had been celebrated sporadically in different states through the early 1800s and occasionally individual presidents declared a specific day of Thanksgiving. But it was Mrs. Hale’s tireless campaign to make it a national holiday that bore fruit under the administration of Abraham Lincoln during the most trying period of American History, the Civil War.
Sarah Hale’s own story was extraordinary. A native of New Hampshire, she was the mother of five children when she was widowed in 1822. To support her large family, she put quill to paper and began writing poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Her first book of original Poems for Our Children was published in 1830 (and included her still popular “Mary Had a Little Lamb”). Sarah’s talents caught the eye of Reverend John Blake of Boston, who was publishing a popular monthly Ladies Magazine that he himself edited. Blake was bold enough to ask Sarah to take over as editor (there were no women editors in the United States). She moved to Boston and proceeded to boost circulation. When Louis Godey bought Rev. Blake’s magazine in 1837, he asked Sarah to stay on as editor. Mrs. Hale presided as editor (or “editress” as she preferred) of the influential Godey’s Lady’s Book from 1837 to 1877 – recommending books, authors, fashions, and social causes (ranging from the education of women to the restoration of historic sites). She furthered the careers of major American writers by publishing literary essays by Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, and Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Sarah Buell Hale thought a national Thanksgiving would be a source of unity for all Americans, as well as a means of acknowledging the blessings of a bountiful land of liberty. She pounded Presidents Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan with letters urging the establishment of a national Thanksgiving holiday, as a way of encouraging both gratitude and unity. They ignored her. Abraham Lincoln did not. When he received her letter in September 1863, just months after the carnage at Gettysburg, Lincoln saw the wisdom of her suggestion, and proclaimed the last Thursday in November an annual holiday.
A splendid children’s book on Sarah Hale has not yet been written. But teachers and children will find her extraordinary life and efforts profiled in two accounts. The former is lively but light. The latter is more substantive.
Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving
Laurie Halse Anderson. Illustrated by Matt Faulkner.
Simon and Schuster, 2005 (K-3)
The bouncy “superheroine” approach in this picture book tends to portray Sarah Hale as a caricature of herself (she becomes a bit of a stubborn, willful, quill-wielding nag.) But young children will at least meet this noteworthy woman, and learn of her wide-ranging efforts.