November 26, 2012

The Women and Men of Thanksgiving

Many of us know the most familiar story of the first Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth Colony, in present-day Massachusetts, in 1621.  But it took more than 200 years for President Abraham Lincoln to declare the final Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving in 1863, and only in 1941 did the U.S. Congress finally made Thanksgiving Day an official national holiday.

This may never have occurred were it not for a strong and confident woman: Sara Josepha Hale.

Sarah J. Hale, a poet and novelist, became editor of the Ladies' Magazine in 1828.  In 1837 the Ladies' Magazine became known as the Lady's Book, still led by Hale until 1877.  During her tenure as editor, Hale made the magazine the most recognized and influential periodical for women, and was involved in numerous philanthropic pursuits.  She used her position as editor to advocate the education of women. 

For 15 years, Hale waged a campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday.  But not until she enlisted the help of President Lincoln did her campaign succeed.

In 1939, toward the end of the Great Depression, the last Thursday of November was going to be November 30, and retailers complained to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that this only left 24 shopping days to Christmas.  Begging FDR to move Thanksgiving just one week earlier, it was hoped that Christmas shoppers would have the extra week to purchase more. 

When FDR issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1939, he declared that Thanksgiving would be held the second-to-last Thursday of the month, causing a tremendous uproar – calendars were incorrect, school holidays had to be rescheduled, even football schedules had to be redone.  His political opponents questioned the right of a president to changing a holiday, even coining the holiday name as “Franksgiving.”

Twenty-three states followed the presidential order and changed the date for Thanksgiving, and 23 other states kept the traditional date.  Colorado and Texas decided to honor both dates as holidays.  In 1941, Roosevelt again announced Thanksgiving to be the second-to-last Thursday of the month, and 31 states honored the earlier date while 17 maintained the tradition by celebrating the last Thursday of November.

Lincoln had established Thanksgiving to bring our country together, but the confusion was tearing the country apart until Congress passed a law on December 26, 1941 that Thanksgiving would now occur annually on the 4th Thursday in November.

(Another woman, artist Margaret Cusack, provided the design of a commemorative Thanksgiving stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service in 2001.  It was a style resembling traditional folk-art needlework, depicting a cornucopia overflowing with fruits and vegetables under the phrase “We Give Thanks.”)

We are thankful for the passion and leadership each of you – women and men – give to the work of Chrysalis.  From each of us, our best wishes for a lovely and relaxing holiday.