Biography of Famous American Sarah Josepha Hale Part 1

About the famous American feminist Sarah Josepha Hale, biography and history of the Thanksgiving proponent.


SARAH JOSEPHA HALE (1788-1879). Woman of letters.

She worked harder than John Henry, was a more influential editor than Horace Greeley, wrote a more famous poem than "Trees," was catalyst for the American holiday Thanksgiving, was the most autocratic arbiter of correct behavior since Petronius, was one of the most famous Americans of her century, and yet remains so enigmatic that radical feminists hardly know whether to praise her as a shrewd pioneer in the fight for women's rights or to damn her as a notorious traitor to her sex.

She was born in Newport, N.H. Her mother was Martha Whittlesey, a remarkable woman who insisted upon educating her, and her father was Capt. Gordon Buell, a Revolutionary War soldier from whom she got some of her fanatical patriotism. An older brother who went to Dartmouth taught her philosophy and Latin, and she worked as a teacher for years before marrying lawyer David Hale in 1813. Hale encouraged her to study and to write, but otherwise she was a typical housewife until her sudden widowhood in 1822 left her penniless with five children to support in a society which considered it improper for a gentlewoman to earn money even if she somehow managed to work that miracle.

Her late husband's brother Masons set her up as a milliner, but she dreamed of supporting herself by writing and she devoted her phenomenal energies to that end. She wrote verse over the pen name Cornelia, publishing a volume of poems entitled The Genius of Oblivion in 1823. Success began for her with the publication of her first novel. Northwood, in 1827; it prompted Rev. John Lauris Blake to offer her the editorship of a monthly magazine for women he was founding in Boston. Several previous magazines for women had folded after an issue or two. Sarah Josepha Hale began to edit Ladies' Magazine in 1828 and devised a very successful format for it. In 1837 the brilliant promoter Louis A. Godey bought Ladies' Magazine, renaming it Godey's Lady's Book. Godey's hucksterism was important to the commercial success of the venture, but it was Sarah Hale's skills as editor, author, arbiter, and agitator that made Godey's Lady's Book the most influential magazine in 19th-century America. She remained at its helm until December, 1877, when she retired at 89.

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