– PEOPLE WORTH REMEMBERING –

How many people recognize the name Sarah Josepha Hale?   Only a few.    How many are familiar with “Godey’s Lady’s Book?”  Nearly none.  How many realize that Thanksgiving is a national holiday?    Nearly all.

A common thread ties together those three questions:    it was Sarah Josepha Hale, longtime editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, who by 1863 had almost single-handedly convinced President Lincoln to proclaim Thanksgiving as a nationwide observance.

Born in New Hampshire in 1788, Sarah was schooled at her mother’s knee.    In 1813, she married David Hale.  The couple were happy as their five children came along.    But in 1822, after a brief illness, David died, leaving Sarah on her own.    For a while she did sewing and millinery; but that neither satisfied her intellectually nor paid her bills.

After the publication of some of her poems, she wrote “Northwood,” the first-ever novel by an American woman.    It was also the first novel in America to deal with slavery.

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The success of that volume prompted Sarah to produce her own periodical, “Ladies Magazine,” the first in the United States devoted exclusively to the interests of women.    In the initial 1828 issue, she assured the husbands and fathers of her prospective readers that well-informed females would become rational companions and agreeable friends.    “My work,” she promised, “will mark the progress of female improvement.”

In 1837, attracted by Sarah’s commitment and journalistic skills in her own magazine, Louis Godey, publisher of “Godey’s Lady’s Book,” engaged her to edit his emerging magazine instead.    The two agreed to include only original writings, instead of following the traditional practice of borrowing material from other publications.

Furthermore, Sarah decreed writers would be paid liberally for their efforts.    Ultimately Sarah opened her pages to authors such as Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes, Emerson, Bryant, Whittier and Poe.

Godey’s magazine quickly became the last word in women’s fashions and intellect.    Its color plates depicting women’s attire were hand-painted by 150 women employed in their homes.    “Godey’s Lady’s Book” quickly outdistanced its rivals, at its height circulating monthly some 150,000 copies to all the best homes in America.

Sarah’s campaign to make Thanksgiving an event uniformly observed nationwide took much longer than some of her other efforts.    In fact, for 17 years she wrote of the need; and she penned thousands of letters to prominent citizens in support of her crusade.    Finally, success arrived:    in 1863 Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national celebration.    And such it has remained ever since.

Sarah Hale worked at her desk until she passed the age of 90.    But on April 3, 1879, she died.    Shortly before that date, she had issued one last challenge to her readership — and to all citizens since:    “Rouse all your energies for the work that is before you.    In a country and age of such mighty privileges it requires warm hearts, strong minds, and liberal hands to devise, and dare, and do.” Sarah Hale championed the rights of the downtrodden until her dying day.

Today, of course, while Thanksgiving is hugely observed, Sarah Josepha Hale and Godey’s Lady’s Book are largely forgotten.    But on the tongue of most of us lingers one small piece of her writings:    her children’s poem, which begins, “Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.”    If nothing else of Sarah’s work, her verse we’re sure to know.