Sarah Had A Little Wish
By Tammi J Truax
Actually, that isn’t all too accurate. History shows that Sarah had a big wish, that she worked very hard to make it come true, and it did.
The Sarah that I refer to is Sarah Josepha Hale, born in 1789 on East Mountain at Newport, New Hampshire. Her father, Gordon Buell, had been a revolutionary war captain. Her childhood there was typical for girls of the period, without a formal education. Her brother, Horatio, was atypical. Formally educated at Dartmouth, he in turn educated his sister at home, and she was a most willing pupil.
Sarah is probably most well-known for writing the popular children’s rhyme, Mary Had a Little a Lamb, but it is probably the least of her accomplishments.
At the age of 24 she married lawyer David Hale, and continued her home studies. Nine years later her husband died, and Sarah found herself without an income, four young children, and a fifth on the way.
It wasn’t long before she saw her ability to write as a potential means of support, and with the assistance of her husband’s Freemason lodge, she published her first book; a collection of original poems titled The Genius of Oblivion. It was followed by her first novel, published in the US under the title Northwood: Life North and South. It made her well-known; as one of the first American women novelists and one of the first of either gender to write about slavery. A job offer as editor of the new Ladies’ Magazine resulted. Sarah accepted it and moved her young family to Boston.
She did well in there and from the years 1837 to 1877 she was the editor of the very popular Godey’s Lady’s Book, sometimes called the Victorian bible of the parlor. It is still famous for its hand painted fashion plates.
From her editorial positions the woman from a small New Hampshire town yielded considerable influence on the nation. Both in matters small and trivial, such as how to set the table, to matters large, that women often did not voice any opinion about.
Ironically, Sarah denounced the growing women’s right movement, even as she did a great deal to advance it. Much of her lifetime’s work was clearly intended to promote higher education, professional career opportunities including in teaching and medicine, and social reform of all kinds for women, while heralding the importance and dignity of motherhood and homemaking.
Overall though, her great loyalty was to her country. She worked tirelessly to ensure the completion of the Bunker Hill monument, for the preservation of Mount Vernon Plantation, and to give us something we should all be thankful for.
Over a period of at least seventeen years, Sarah implored no less than five presidents to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Previously it had been celebrated primarily in New England and at different times in different states. Sarah felt strongly that a national and official holiday would help to heal and unify the country after the civil war. Finally President Lincoln agreed and proclaimed it so in 1863. Clearly they were right, it still seems to be the one day of the year when we all come together as a nation, put our differences aside, and count our abundant blessings.
Here is the transcript of one of Sarah’s letters to the president:
Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois.
Courtesy Library of Congress.
Courtesy Library of Congress.
Philadelphia, Sept. 28th 1863.
Permit me, as Editress of the "Lady's Book", to request a few minutes of your precious time, while laying before you a subject of deep interest to myself and -- as I trust -- even to the President of our Republic, of some importance. This subject is to have the day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.
You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.
Enclosed are three papers (being printed these are easily read) which will make the idea and its progress clear and show also the popularity of the plan.
For the last fifteen years I have set forth this idea in the "Lady's Book", and placed the papers before the Governors of all the States and Territories -- also I have sent these to our Ministers abroad, and our Missionaries to the heathen -- and commanders in the Navy. From the recipients I have received, uniformly the most kind approval. Two of these letters, one from Governor (now General) Banks and one from Governor Morgan are enclosed; both gentlemen as you will see, have nobly aided to bring about the desired Thanksgiving Union.
But I find there are obstacles not possible to be overcome without legislative aid -- that each State should, by statute, make it obligatory on the Governor to appoint the last Thursday of November, annually, as Thanksgiving Day; -- or, as this way would require years to be realized, it has ocurred to me that a proclamation from the President of the United States would be the best, surest and most fitting method of National appointment.
I have written to my friend, Hon. Wm. H. Seward, and requested him to confer with President Lincoln on this subject As the President of the United States has the power of appointments for the District of Columbia and the Territories; also for the Army and Navy and all American citizens abroad who claim protection from the U. S. Flag -- could he not, with right as well as duty, issue his proclamation for a Day of National Thanksgiving for all the above classes of persons? And would it not be fitting and patriotic for him to appeal to the Governors of all the States, inviting and commending these to unite in issuing proclamations for the last Thursday in November as the Day of Thanksgiving for the people of each State? Thus the great Union Festival of America would be established.
Now the purpose of this letter is to entreat President Lincoln to put forth his Proclamation, appointing the last Thursday in November (which falls this year on the 26th) as the National Thanksgiving for all those classes of people who are under the National Government particularly, and commending this Union Thanksgiving to each State Executive: thus, by the noble example and action of the President of the United States, the permanency and unity of our Great American Festival of Thanksgiving would be forever secured.
An immediate proclamation would be necessary, so as to reach all the States in season for State appointments, also to anticipate the early appointments by Governors.
Excuse the liberty I have taken
With profound respect
Editress of the "Ladys Book"
My research of Victorian thanksgiving menus such as Sarah would have espoused showed that our traditional foods really are traditional with just a few exceptions. I share the following recipe that was popular then which I think should be re-introduced, especially here in an oystering community. Happy Thanksgiving.
OYSTER FRICASSEE from the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book of 1896
1 pint oysters.
Milk or cream.
2 tablespoons butter.
2 tablespoons flour.
1/4 teaspoon salt.
Few grains cayenne.
1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley.
Clean oysters, heat oyster liquor to boiling point and strain through double thickness of cheese cloth; add oysters to liquor and cook until plump.
Remove oysters with skimmer and add enough cream to liquor to make a cupful.
Melt butter, add flour, and pour on gradually hot liquid; add salt, cayenne, parsley, oysters, and egg slightly beaten.
(Tammi’s note: A dash or two of white wine may be added while cooking. Can be served this way as a first course soup, or can be baked with buttered cracker crumbs to be served as a side dish, but be sure not to overcook delicate oysters.)
Tammi Truax likes to write on the subjects of home, hearth, and history. She can be reached at T4tu@comcast.net.