What do “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and our national Thanksgiving holiday have in common?

Answer: Sarah Josepha Hale.

Who was she and what is the connection?

In addition to authoring one of the most famous children’s poems of all time — “Mary Had a Little Lamb” — Hale was arguably the most persistent advocate for a national day of Thanksgiving. She proposed the last day of November as a day for the nation to observe and acknowledge God as the dispenser of blessings and to emphasize unity in our nation, which had become sorely divided during her lifetime.

How did her advocacy lead to a national Thanksgiving holiday?


Hale petitioned five presidents, governors and many others over a 17-year period that included the years leading up to and during the Civil War. Instead of abandoning the cause when national strife was at its peak, she continued her pursuit and petitioned Abraham Lincoln about the matter in a letter dated September 28, 1863.

Sarah Joseph Hale’s petition for a national day of Thanksgiving from the Mercury One historical collection. Photo courtesy of Mercury One.

Five days later, President Abraham Lincoln issued a Proclamation of Thanksgiving on October 3, 1863, with the purpose to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer to our beneficent Father, who dwelleth in the heavens…” and to “fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”

President Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of Thanksgiving from the Mercury One historical collection. Photo courtesy of Mercury One.

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Republished with permission from MercuryOne.org.