F*ck It, Let's Eat Pie: The Sarah Josepha Hale Story
As we near the dawn of, well, Trump not being president anymore, the big question on the minds of would-be pundits is "But what are we going to do about the division? America is divided! The only way things can get better is if we're not divided! Maybe a good idea would be to appoint Mitt Romney and John Kasich to key Cabinet positions? What if we all got matching flag pins? How about if we keep saying 'We all want the same things, we just have different ideas about how to get there?' over and over again?"
Well, there is nothing new under the sun, and no one demonstrates that better than Sara Josepha Hale, the lady who wrote "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and is also largely responsible for Thanksgiving being an official holiday.
While the first Thanksgiving did happen in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1691, they didn't actually call it that and it didn't become a national holiday until much, much later. It was celebrated regionally in various New England states like Massachusetts, but not really all over the country. Various presidents issued official days of thanks for various reasons, until Thomas Jefferson got all "Ooh, I don't know guys, seems like a violation of church and state to me" about things.
Hale grew up in New Hampshire, where she was born in 1788, and was lucky enough to have parents who thought women should be educated. Of course, formal school was out of the question, so she was homeschooled by her family. She even grew up to be a writer and editor, which was obviously uncommon for women at that time, and in 1827 published her first novel, Northwood: Life North and South. This particular novel espoused three important ideas.
The first was that all of America's problems could be solved by everyone becoming more New England-y; the second was that Thanksgiving, which she grew up celebrating, was a really great holiday and everyone should celebrate it; and the third was that we should get rid of slavery and that part of doing that should be to just ... send all of the Black people to Liberia. Just like drop them off there, wherever. They'll figure it out!
And yes, sure, being randomly dropped off in Liberia is preferable to being a slave, but also what the actual fuck?
She then later wrote another entire novel about sending Black people back to Liberia, because this was an idea she thought was just great.
Anyway, 10 years down the road, Hale is made editor of Godey's Lady Book, a position she uses to write many editorials about how Thanksgiving is great and it should be a national holiday. Why? Because she thought it would unify the country, which was currently quite split on whether white people should be allowed to keep Black people as slaves. And while she did get several states to jump on the bandwagon, the Civil War broke out nevertheless.
Did that stop her? Nope! She beat that drum even harder, convinced that the solution to everyone's problems here was a nice meal, maybe some pie, maybe some 19th century football. She petitioned Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis to make everyone stop doing war for a minute to do Thanksgiving and kept writing editorials encouraging people to "put aside sectional feelings and local incidents" and instead join up with her cause of making Thanksgiving a thing. We can assume this suggestion did not apply to enslaved Black people.
Not many people can chalk "Should people own people or no?" to "sectional feelings and local incidents," I will give her that much. I would be very curious to know what her response would have been to someone's head being on fire. Some tea perhaps? Maybe a little blush?
But she did eventually get her wish and, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday. Though that would not apply to the south for two more years — because even though people celebrated the holiday in both the North and the South, doing so did not actually end the Civil War.
After that, she did become somewhat of an advocate for women. She was all in favor of educating women, "empowering" them, promoting female writers, but, voting? That was a bridge too far. So I guess we can't say she wasn't consistent.
Take what you will from all of this.
Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse