At this point, most of us know that the story of Thanksgiving that we’re taught in grade school isn’t exactly accurate. Pilgrims and Native Americans probably didn’t share a turkey across a picnic table and because European supplies were all but exhausted by the time the festival began (a festival in which few Pilgrims would likely have been caught giving thanks) there wasn’t any pie or other kinds of dessert. We know that they ate five deer and that many of the dishes were prepared using native spices and in traditional native ways; but beyond that, we don’t know much about what was on the menu back in 1621.
The Thanksgiving tradition persisted over the years. In 1789, George Washington issued the first ever Thanksgiving holiday proclamation from an American government, in which he asked the citizens of our nation to be thankful for the resolution of the American Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution. During their presidencies, John Adams and James Madison both called for days of thanksgiving as well, though each didn’t fall on the same date.
Eventually, states would come to adopt the idea of designating a holiday for giving thanks, though each celebrated it slightly differently. Then in 1827, Sarah Josepha Hale started a campaign to launch a nationwide day of thanks. Hale was a prominent woman who had gained notoriety as an author; among the works credited to her is the famous poem, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” She was also no pushover.
For thirty-six long years, Sarah Jospeha Hale continued a letter writing campaign to governors, senators, presidents and any other politician she thought might be able to aid in her quest to launch the holiday of Thanksgiving. She wrote editorials and spoke publicly about the holiday she believed would benefit her nation. Finally, at the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln heeded her request.