(WWLP) — NEWS10’s sister station in Springfield, Massachusetts looked into the history behind Thanksgiving. The holiday came about because of the persistence of an influential woman writer and her correspondence with the 16th president.
The traditional story of Thanksgiving is the pilgrims and the Indians. The story is repeated in school history books, telling of cold and seasick pilgrims stepping off of the Mayflower onto Plymouth Rock in 1620 and sharing food with helpful native peoples.
Actually, it never happened, despite being immortalized in American legend for generations. In fact, the first national Thanksgiving day did not invoke the pilgrims at all.
Seventy-four-year-old Sarah Josepha Hale was a magazine editor from Philadelphia. She is credited with writing the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” In September 1863, she wrote a letter to Pres. Abraham Lincoln.
She explained, “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 to become permanently an American custom and institution.”
Before this, each state scheduled its own Thanksgiving holiday at different times.
President Lincoln responded to Mrs. Hale’s request immediately, unlike several of his predecessors who’d ignored her petitions advocating for a national Thanksgiving date for the previous 15 years.
Lincoln declared that a national Thanksgiving will be celebrated annually on the last Thursday of November.
On November 19th, 1863 Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, which is one of the greatest and most eloquent speeches of all time. Just one week later, his proclamation for a national Thanksgiving day was enacted and observed and it’s been that way ever since.