Monday, November 2, 2015

How Thanksgiving Became a National Holiday

Hello again everyone!  I'm Susan Morrow from Keep 'em Thinking!  I can't believe it's November already.  On the fourth Thursday in November, millions of Americans gather around a table to celebrate Thanksgiving, but it was not always that way.  Here is the rest of  the story…

     In the 1820’s, Thanksgiving was all but forgotten in most of the United States.  Each state had its own appointed day of Thanksgiving, but the only states that really observed the holiday were the New England states.  The future of Thanksgiving looked bleak and dim, but thanks to the tenacity and persistence of one incredible woman, Thanksgiving was reborn!
Sarah Hale lived in Boston, Massachusetts during the1800’s.  She led a happy life, but when her husband David died, Sarah was so devastated, she wore black clothing for the rest of her life.  Suddenly, Sarah was a single mother of five children. But, Sarah was determined and smart.  To support her family, she decided to use her talent with words to write books and poems. Her most famous poem is Mary Had a Little Lamb. 
     Sarah’s books and poems were very popular, and she became the first female  editor of  a magazine, Lady’s Book Magazine, which was also the most successful women’s magazine of that  time.  Each month, Sarah wrote an opinion piece in the magazine.  Her opinions mattered, and people followed her advice.  She wrote about things such as slavery, parenting, the importance of play and exercise for children, and education for women. 
Thanksgiving was a holiday that was very important to Sarah.  She believed that Thanksgiving should be celebrated by everyone, and each year she wrote an article in her magazine about the importance of setting aside the fourth Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving.  In her magazine articles, Sarah suggested foods such as turkey, and pumpkin pie to be served at the dinner.  Soon, more and more families across the country were celebrating Thanksgiving, but that wasn’t good enough for Sarah!  She wanted Thanksgiving to be declared a national holiday.
Sarah believed in the power of the pen, so she began a letter writing campaign. She wrote to governors and other politicians, military leaders, and even missionaries soliciting their support in observing Thanksgiving.   In 1849, Sarah decided to write to the president asking him  to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday.  Zachary Taylor, the president at that time, declined her request, along with the next three presidents- Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan.  Each time a president said no, Sarah became even more determined. 
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln was president of the United States, and the North and South were at war.  Sarah felt that the country should be united and that declaring a national day of Thanksgiving was one way to demonstrate national unity.  She wrote a letter to President Lincoln on September 3, 1863, and on October 3rd, Lincoln issued a proclamation making the last Thursday in November a national day of thanks.  After 15 years, hundreds of letters, and five presidents, Sarah had achieved her goal.  Thanks to her determination, persistence, and the power of the pen, Sarah became known as the woman who saved Thanksgiving.
I use two wonderful picture books about Sarah Hale each November to teach the history of how Thanksgiving became a national holiday.  They are Sarah Gives Thanks by Mike Allegra, and Thank You, Sarah  by Laurie Halse Anderson.  Both books document Sarah's persistence and determination. I teach about mindset in my classroom and Sarah Hale is a fabulous example of a woman with a growth mindset.  She didn't give up even after numerous failures.    

There are a number of online resources you can use along with these two picture books to learn about Sarah Hale and the history of the modern day Thanksgiving.  Click on any of the links below to get to the resources.
Proclamation of Thanksgiving: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln
When is Thanksgiving Again? Wise Guide November 2002
L.L. Doty to Sarah J. Hale, Wednesday, October 3, 1860 (Thanksgiving) American Memory
I have created a unit on Sarah Hale, which you can purchase on my Teachers Pay Teacher's Store.  Click on the picture below to take you to the site.
This unit is filled with higher level thinking questions and activities.  One of my favorite activities to have my students to complete is an I AM poem about Sarah Hale.    Click on the collage below to get a free copy of the I Am Poem.

Sarah Hale I Am Poem Freebie

I hope you and your students enjoy learning about Sarah Hale!  Until next time, remember to always... Keep 'em Thinking!

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