Thursday, November 28, 2013
Sarah Josepha Hale and Thanksgiving
Those of you who are new to my blogging need to be introduced to the post I write every year, an homage to Sarah Josepha Hale. It's very important that you know who she is, so keep reading.
Sarah Josepha Hale should be on a t-shirt. If she's already on a t-shirt, someone should get that for me for a present. Of course she's got some problems--everybody does, and when you're a feminist scholar studying folks, those problems become apparent. But she was an incredibly influential woman in the 19th century, and it's because of her that Thanksgiving is a national holiday.
For 25 years, she wrote letters to the Presidents. She was like, "Listen, y'all, July 4 is a great holiday, but it's the only one we've got. You know that it would help our national unity if we had one more, at a different time of year, that has symbolic connection to the founding of our country and all that." She said, "You know that everybody loves turkey, and people need an excuse to eat a ridiculous amount of pie. So come on."
Because she was the editor of Godey's Ladies Book, a magazine that was so famous that it makes famous things today look puny by comparison, people paid some attention to her. And in 1863, Abraham Lincoln was like, "Dude, that SJH has a good idea. This Civil War's got everybody down, and pumpkin consumption is on the decline. The sweet potato lobby has been pushing for more support. So what the hell: let's make Thanksgiving a national holiday, on the fourth Thursday of November every year."
And here we are: celebrating Thanksgiving, but most of us not offering the tiniest thought to the woman who made it happen, Sarah Josepha Hale. Just about every year I draw people's attention to her, and yet I haven't generated the kind of viral attention that SJH needs. So tell your dining companions about her. She got us all a day off and a patriotic opportunity to eat pecan pie (and celebrate the eugenic efforts to rid the country of its indigenous population, but we'll put that aside for the moment).
Hurray, Sarah Josepha Hale!
PS: She's also responsible for a universally-loved children's song--she wrote it--but that fact has been forgotten as well. Any idea what it is? Anybody? "Mary Had a Little Lamb."