Sarah Josepha Buell was born October 24, 1788 in Newport, New Hampshire.
While working as a schoolteacher in 1811, Sarah’s father opened a tavern called The Rising Sun in Newport. Soon thereafter, she met a young lawyer named David Hale.
Sarah married David at The Rising Sun on October 23, 1813.
The couple would have five children together.
When her husband David died in 1822, Sarah decided to wear black for the rest of her life as a sign of perpetual mourning.
In 1823, with the financial support of her late husband’s Freemason lodge, Sarah published a collection of poems she titled The Genius of Oblivion.
Sarah then wrote a controversial novel, published in the United States under the title Northwood: Life North and South and in London under the title A New England Tale.
This novel made Sarah one of the first American women novelists and one of the first of either gender to write a book about slavery.
Her book garnered praise from Reverend John Blake, who asked Sarah to move to Boston to serve as the editor of his journal, the Ladies’ Magazine.
Sarah agreed and from 1828 until 1836 served as editor of the magazine, though she preferred the title “editress”.
Sarah Hale hoped the magazine would help in educating women, as she wrote, “not that they may usurp the situation, or encroach on the prerogatives of man; but that each individual may lend her aid to the intellectual and moral character of those within her sphere”.
Then Sarah wrote a collection of Poems for Our Children.
Sarah’s collection included a poem originally titled “Mary’s Lamb.”
The nursery rhyme collection was first published by the Boston publishing firm Marsh, Capen & Lyon on May 24, 1830.
Sarah’s poem Mary’s Lamb was actually inspired years earlier when a young schoolmate of Sarah’s named Mary Sawyer took her pet lamb to school at the suggestion of her brother. The rest as they say is history!
The original poem as published in 1830:
“Mary had a little lamb,
Its fleece was white as snow,
And every where that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go;
He followed her to school one day
That was against the rule,
It made the children laugh and play,
To see a lamb at school.
And so the Teacher turned him out,
But still he lingered near,
And waited patiently about,
Till Mary did appear;
And then he ran to her, and laid
His head upon her arm,
As if he said ‘ I ‘m not afraid
You’ll keep me from all harm.’
‘What makes the lamb love Mary so?’
The eager children cry
Mary loves the lamb, you know,’
The Teacher did reply;
And you each gentle animal
In confidence may bind,
And make them follow at your call,
If you are always kind?”
After the success of Sarah’s poem, the actual Redstone School, which was built in 1798, was purchased by Henry Ford and relocated to a churchyard on the property of Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts.
In 1833, Sarah Hale founded the Seaman’s Aid Society to assist the surviving families of Boston sailors who died at sea.
Then in 1837 Louis Antoine Godey of Philadelphia hired Sarah Hale as the editor of his Ladies’ Magazine, since then renamed American Ladies’ Magazine.
Sarah began working as editor, but Godey insisted she edit from Boston while her youngest son, William, attended Harvard College.
Sarah remained editor at Godey’s for forty years, retiring in 1877 when she was almost 90.
During her tenure at Godey’s, Sarah became one of the most important and influential arbiters of American taste.
In its day, Godey’s, with no significant competitors, had an influence unimaginable for any single publication in the 21st century. The magazine was credited with an ability to influence fashions not only for women’s clothes, but also in domestic architecture.
During this time, Sarah Hale wrote many more novels and poems, publishing nearly fifty volumes by the end of her life.
Sarah Hale retired from her editorial duties in 1877 at the age of 89.
The same year, Thomas Edison spoke the opening lines of “Mary’s Lamb” as the first speech ever recorded on his newly invented phonograph. It was the first instance of recorded verse.
The original recording is no longer in existence but in 1927 Edison re-enacted the recording which still survives.
Sarah Josepha Buell Hale died at her home, 1413 Locust Street in Philadelphia, on April 30, 1879.
She is buried in a simple grave in the Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Her Thanksgiving Legacy
Sarah Hale is also credited as the individual most responsible for making Thanksgiving a national holiday in the United States; it had previously been celebrated only in New England.
Each state scheduled its own holiday, some as early as October and others as late as January; it was largely unknown in the American South.
Her advocacy for the national holiday began in 1846 and lasted 17 years before it became successful.
In support of the proposed national holiday, Sarah wrote letters to five Presidents of the United States: Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln.
Her initial letters failed to persuade, but the letter Sarah wrote to Lincoln convinced him to support legislation establishing the national holiday of Thanksgiving in 1863.
The new national holiday was considered a unifying day after the stress of the American Civil War. Prior to the addition of Thanksgiving, the only national holidays celebrated in the United States were Washington’s Birthday and Independence Day.
Sarah Hale also advocated for the preservation of George Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation, as a symbol of patriotism that both the Northern and Southern United States could all support.
Sarah raised $30,000 in Boston for the completion of the Bunker Hill Monument. When construction stalled, she asked her readers to donate a dollar each and also organized a week-long craft fair at Quincy Market. The fair sold handmade jewelry, quilts, baskets, jams, jellies, cakes, pies, and autographed letters from Washington, James Madison, and the Marquis de Lafayette.
Sarah “made sure the 221-foot obelisk that commemorates the battle of Bunker Hill got built.”
Later her nation honored her when the Liberty Ship #1538 (1943–1972) was named in her honor.
Also a prestigious literary prize, the Sarah Josepha Hale Award, is named for her.
Now WE know em