Sarah Hale is an author best known for her children’s rhyme “Mary had a little lamb.” But, what many don’t know, is that she is the reason why we celebrate Thanksgiving as a national holiday every November.

Sarah Josepha Hale was born in 1788 in Newport, New Hampshire. Her progressive parents believed that both men and women should be educated so they made sure that Sarah continued to go to school long after most girls left. Sarah married a gifted lawyer named David Hale who supported all of her creative and educational endeavors. Unfortunately, he died leaving her a widow with five children. She began to write and sell poetry to support her family and her first book, Poems For Our Children, was a modest success. But inside that book was the famous rhyme “Mary had a little lamb” which has become one the most beloved of all children’s rhymes.

In 1837, she became an editor of the well-known magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book. Her essays, and works with other authors, made her one of the most influential female voices of the 19th century. And she used her voice to advocate for things like women’s education and child rearing. She was a staunch New England abolitionist and wrote often about the evils of slavery. She also used her contacts to raise money to preserve historic buildings including George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon and the Bunker Hill monument. Both of which are still open today.

Sarah Hale was heavily criticized for her belief that women should take control of the domestic realm and not involve themselves in politics. Yet, while she was not a suffragette, her influence and essays played a part in opening up educational opportunities for women and changing the laws about women being allowed to own property.

Despite all of her success, Sarah Hale is most well known for a letter she penned to President Abraham Lincoln in 1846. After writing many essays on the subject of making Thanksgiving a national holiday (which was only celebrated in the northeastern states), she wrote such a persuasive letter to President Lincoln that, despite the stress if being in the middle of the Civil War, he signed “A National Day of Thanksgiving Praise” into law. While President Lincoln codified the holiday, we have Sarah Hale–a visionary writer of rhymes and essays–to thank for it.


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