7 Things You Didn’t Know About Sarah Josepha Hale

Picture1It’s the right time of year to dive into Sarah Josepha Hale’s (1788-1879) story, considering she was one of the people most responsible for making Thanksgiving a national holiday, among her many other accomplishments. This article will highlight 6 other facts that you may not have known about Godey’s Lady’s Book’s formidable former female editor.

First, a little background information. Hale was born in rural New Hampshire in 1788. She became a teacher and later married David Hale in 1813. David unfortunately passed away after they had been married for nine years, leaving Sarah with five children. She tried millinery work to support her family, while writing in her spare time, but discovered she was not a success as a milliner. She became further engrossed in her writing and was able to publish a book of her poems, The Genius of Oblivion, in 1823 with the help of the Freemasons. David Hale had belonged to the Freemasons and his lodge wished to help Sarah Hale.

After the publication of her book of poems, Hale tried her hand at novel writing. She decided to write Northwood: A Tale of New England. This was bold for a woman, considering that women typically only wrote poetry, but the novel was very successful.  Hale became more confident in her work and later accepted a position as editor at Ladies’ Magazine in 1828. Ladies’ Magazine is considered the first successful American women’s magazine, and would eventually merge with its rival, Lady’s Book, first published in 1830, to become Godey’s Lady’s Book, in 1837.

As editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, and as a wordsmith, Sarah Josepha Hale used language to promote her causes. Her position was influential considering the national reach of Godey’s and the magazine’s legacy as a standard for style and taste. Throughout her life, Hale would remain passionate about equal opportunities for women and the importance of education for all.


And now….some interesting things you didn’t know about Godey’s editor, Sarah Josepha Hale:

  1. Hale was the first to use the term “lingerie” to describe ladies’ undergarments or underwear, a vulgar word, so that a taboo subject may be permissibly read with chic terminology.[1] Before the use of the word lingerie, the topic was largely avoided entirely by women’s magazines.
  1. Hale promoted the phrase “domestic science” to elevate the household duties of women to something of intelligence and substance. Hale recalled wishing to promote the rights of her fellow ladies as one of her earliest memories, and recognizing the importance of their daily work was a part of this.[2]
  1. Godey’s was known for its impressive fashion plates, but Hale actually would have preferred not the print them, and would rather an agenda that favored discussing the position of women and their causes. She did not publish any fashion plates during her three years at The Ladies’ Magazine, and upon their inclusion in 1831, she announced “‘There is part of our duty as editor of a ladies’ journal which we feel so reluctant to perform, as to quote, or exhibit the fashion of dress.’”[3] Hale herself almost always dressed in black with white lace trim. Her style choices were simple but of good quality.
  1. Her belief in university education for women encouraged Matthew Vassar to open the first college for women. He did so, but Hale did not like that he had called it “Vassar Female College” and had him remove “female” from the name.[4] She found the word “female” to be offensive. At the time, it usually referred to female animals.
  1. Hale raised money for the completion of the Bunker Hill monument and to restore Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home.  She wrote in Godey’s asking for donations and had many women willing to respond and support her, and also conducted a seven-day fair whose proceeds would fund the Bunker Hill Monument. Her efforts in both of these endeavors, with the aid of many of females and some men, were successful. [5]
  1. Ever heard of, Mary Had a Little Lamb? Though there is some speculation, it is believe that she penned the nursery rhyme 1830, originally titled, Mary’s Lamb[4]
  1. And the reason for the connection to the holidays…. Hale campaigned for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday, instead of a sporadic harvest celebration varying by region.[7] She wrote articles in Godey’s Lady’s Book concerning the promotion of Thanksgiving, and wrote to President Abraham Lincoln himself in 1863. Lincoln subsequently issued two proclamations to declare a national Thanksgiving day on the last Thursday of the month (which would later change to the 4th Thursday in November). Though this did not officially create a Thanksgiving Day and Hale did not see a national day of thanks in her lifetime, in 1941, her efforts were rewarded  when President Roosevelt signed the bill that would legally create the Thanksgiving that we have come to know. This article by Peggy Baker of the Pilgrim Society & Pilgrim Hall Museum does a great job of delving into the specifics of Hale’s Thanksgiving crusade.

Sarah Hale has many incredible accomplishments, not the mention being one of the first female American editors, and editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book from 1830 until her last editorial in 1877 at 89 years of age. She is best known for her legacy at Godey’s but it is important to note the many other achievements of her lifetime. These are incredible feats for anyone, let alone a single mother of five in the mid-19th century. Her talent for writing and editing propelled Godey’s to its impressive circulation and lasting legacy as a staple for stylish women of taste. Sarah Josepha Hale was a woman ahead of her time in many respects, and the challenges she faced in terms of becoming a widow with young children, and the limitations placed upon women in the 1800s did not curtail her success as a prominent editor, champion of education, and fervor for improving the status of women.

-Danielle Morrin

[1] Claire Price-Groff, Extraordinary Women Journalists, New York: Children’s Press, 1997, 30.

[2] Kathleen L. Endres and Therese Lueck, Women’s Periodicals in the United States: Consumer Magazines, Westoport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995, 114.

[3] Kathleen L. Endres and Therese Lueck, Women’s Periodicals in the United States: Consumer Magazines. Westoport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995, 115.

[4] Claire Price-Groff, Extraordinary Women Journalists, New York: Children’s Press, 1997, 30.

[5] Bonnie Hurd Smith, “Sarah Josepha Hale,” Boston Women’s Heritage Trail, http://bwht.org/sarah-josepha-hale/.

[7] Barbara Maranzani, “Abraham Lincoln and ‘The Mother of Thanksgiving,'” History.com, Oct. 3, 2013. http://www.history.com/news/abraham-lincoln-and-the-mother-of-thanksgiving.

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