The Godmother of Thanksgiving: Sara Josepha Hale, October 24, 1788 – April 30, 1879

Looking at my work calendar the other day to determine the correct date of Thanksgiving this year, I discovered that the calendar had NO REFERENCE AT ALL to Thanksgiving. That angered me, and besides I needed to know, so I googled it.

The first two links made NO MENTION of the Pilgrims, who celebrated the first Thanksgiving to the God of the Bible on the North American continent. But when I dug further than just the date, I found in the old reliable Farmer’s Almanac a remarkable mini-bio of a woman by the name of Sara Josepha Hale, whom the Almanac calls “the godmother of Thanksgiving”. What you read here is a partial paraphrase of the article.

For years, she wrote “hundreds of letters” to “governors, ministers, newspaper editors, and every U.S. president with one request: that the last Thursday in November be set aside to ‘offer to God our tribute of joy and gratitude for the blessings of the year.’ “

Her persistence paid off in 1863, with her open letter to Abraham Lincoln in an editorial. In 1863, in the middle of the War Between the States, Lincoln declared the last Thursday of October to be National Thanksgiving Day and ordered all government office closed on that day. (That’s what sincerity in government officials looks like.)

Sara’s entire life is an amazing list of achievements. To start with, she is a first-class example of the worth of home schooling. Her mother taught her history and literature, Her brother Horatio taught her everything he learned at Dartmouth College. In 1806, in spite of the fact that at this time women were not accepted as teachers, she opened a private school where she taught until she married David Hale in 1813.

When her husband died in 1822, leaving her with five children to care for, she became a businesswoman, managing a women’s hat shop, and later returning to teaching and writing.

One of her novels so impressed that John Blake asked her to become the first American woman magazine editor. Blake’s magazine was “Ladies’ Magazine”, which she “took ownership of”, and changed the name to American Ladies’ Magazine”. This was later bought out and merged with “Godey’s Lady’s Magazine”. The owner, Louis Godey, was sufficiently impressed with Hale’s ability that he kept her on as editor.

Sara was a powerful influence on American culture, a polished lady of great intelligence and drive. Through her faith in the God of the Bible, she had an important part in imparting a beneficial spiritual effect to America. But remember, she was far from the only Christian. There is no doubt in my mind that there were years of prayers from other Christians that helped in the unseen spiritual world to give America a thoroughly Christian holiday.

The Farmer’s Almanac also notes that our Canadian cousins established Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1879. Canada undoubtedly also had its “godmothers and godfathers of Thanksgiving.”

For those whose lives have been a struggle, whose achievements will never be recorded in history, I want to say this: what we read of Sara Hale’s life is a pale example of the kind of records God is keeping of the lives of every one of us. We struggle with debt, with family problems, with illness, broken bodies, our broken culture, crushed hopes, and old age, with our own sins, and God sees it all. He records it all. Your efforts are not unnoticed. Your pain, your fatigue, your exhaustion, they are not forgotten. Your name and your achievements, including and especially those which only God knows and values, are written in His records. On the Judgment Day, those good deeds, your persistence, your faithfulness to God and His Word, your compassion for others, will be made public, to the entire audience of believers in King Jesus.

Those of us who are believers will have our sins deleted from our records, although we can lose part or all of our reward by sinning. We can also make it necessary for God to discipline us if we persist in sin. But on the Judgment Day, everyone will be praised by God for those good things we have done. For believers in Jesus, that day will be one of undreamed-of rewards and recognition. So don’t quit! Don’t give up! Your reward is coming.

It seems fairly certain that Sara Josepha Hale was a believer in King Jesus. It seems that her achievements rival that of the “ideal wife” described in Proverbs chapter 31. But friends, fellow believers, only God and you know how hard life is for you. Only you and He know the harshness of the “obstacle course” that you call life. But when the Day of the Lord comes, He will reward and honor you beyond your wildest dreams for your efforts on behalf of His Kingdom and the salvation of others. Only then will even your closest friends and family know what it cost you to be true to God and His Word. One day, your fellow believers will be reading your biography with awe and respect.