Who Do We Thank for Thanksgiving? A Woman, Of Course

We all know the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” But few know that the author of that ditty, Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (1788-1879) was also the person who lobbied five presidents over the course of 17 years until Abraham Lincoln finally agreed to name Thanksgiving a U.S. holiday in 1863. Prior to that, it had only been celebrated in New England, and each state chose its own date to commemorate the 1621 meal attended by Wampanoag Indians and Pilgrims in Plymouth, Mass.

Hale was a mixed bag in her feminist politics (just as Thanksgiving is a mixed bag when more deeply understood from a Native American viewpoint): On the one hand, she was a staunch advocate for women’s education and their economic independence, and she spent 40 years as editor of the influential Godey’s Lady’s Book (think of her as the Anna Wintour of her day). Not only a journalist and poet but one of the first American women novelists, she wrote a novel about slavery that decried how it dehumanized “masters” as well as slaves.

On the other hand, Hale opposed women’s suffrage, believing instead in the “secret, silent influence of women” to sway men’s votes.

Obviously if Hale had remained silent, we wouldn’t be stuffing our faces tomorrow in honor of the holiday her persistent voice brought to the national table.

Photo of Hale from Wikimedia Commons


The late Michele Kort—a dedicated feminist—was the senior editor of Ms. magazine for 13 years. She died June 26, 2015, after a long battle with ovarian cancer. She worked for decades in field of journalism, covering sports, music, culture, art and feminist issues for publications like LA Weekly, The Advocate, Shape, Redbook, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Songwriter, InStyle, Living Fit, Fit Pregnancy, Vegetarian Times, Fitness, UCLA Magazine, Women's Sports and Fitness and more. She is the author of four books, including a biography of singer/songwriter Laura Nyro, Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro. Rest in power, Michele.