Mother of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day has a mother, a proper Victorian women, arguably one of most powerful magazine editors in the mid-1800s–Sarah Josepha Hale, a woman who was widowed and “left poor” shortly before the birth of her fifth child.  Of medium height with a high forehead, heart-shaped face, small hands and feet, Sarah Josepha Hale had a smile that, it was said, “broke slowly, ended in a flash.”  For forty years she ceaselessly campaigned for the establishment of a National Thanksgiving, at a time when Americans had only two national holidays to celebrate: Washington’s birthday in February and the Fourth of July. “These are patriotic and political,” she wrote, “Are not the sounds of war borne on the breezes of those festivals? . . . .Should not the women of America have one festival in whose rejoicings they can fully participate?” Her relentless efforts finally resulted in President Lincoln resuming a precedent established by Presidents Washington, Adams, and Madison of issuing a Proclamation of Thanksgiving, “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”  In 1876, the centennial anniversary of the United States, Hale wrote: “It is a holiday especially worthy of our people. All its associations and all its influences are of the best kind. It unites families and friends. It awakens kindly and generous sentiments. It promotes peace and good-will among our mixed population . . .”  SaraJosephaHaleI suspect Sarah Josepha Hale would not be entirely pleased at being represented by this item sold by the New Hampshire Historical Society– a bobblehead  labeled “Mother of Thanksgiving,” but here it is, along with a marker located in Newport, NH. SarahJosephaHale

Posted in My Books, Women's History | Leave a comment

Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving

4th topic with the questions I asked in Thanksgiving: The  True Story about how to connect Thanksgiving Day to the world outside my dining room table: “Questions about the wider community: How do other people spend Thanksgiving? What do they eat? What do they do? Are they surrounded by friends and family? Are they at the Day of Mourning in Plymouth? Are they involved in an activity that promotes peace and goodwill in the world?” unclesamsmallThe image is a cartoon by Thomas Nast celebrating diversity and political equality (Nov. 22, 1869 issue of Harper’s Weekly). Uncle Sam is standing carving the turkey. Columbia, a benevolent symbol of America, is depicted with a tiara.  A diverse group of people are seated around the table, including Chinese, Arab, African, Italian, Spanish, Irish, Native American. The centerpiece touts “Self-Government” and “Universal Suffrage.” The portraits from left to right: Presidents Lincoln, Washington, and Grant. Behind Uncle Sam is a painting of Castle Garden with the word “Welcome”, the entry point for immigrants in Manhattan. “Come One Come All” and “Free and Equal” flank the title “Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner.”


Posted in My Books, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Ragamuffins and Thanksgiving

3rd topic: “Questions about how we spend Thanksgiving: Preparing the food? Savoring the feast? Going to parades or football games? Watching television? Playing intergenerational games? Talking? Walking? Volunteering at a food pantry or homeless shelter?” img626 The image is of a group of ragamuffins, a Thanksgiving Day tradition from the early to mid-1900s. Dressed in clothes they borrowed from their parents or older siblings with dirt smeared on their face or wearing a mask, and their hair tucked under a cap, children would go door-to-door asking:  “Got anything for Thanksgiving?”  Over the course of giving talks about “Thanksgiving: The True Story” I’ve met people who remember being ragamufffins, most recently an 87-year- old man who said he and his friends would dress up and sing in the courtyard of their apartment building. “People would throw pennies, probably to shut us up,” he said.

Posted in My Books | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving Question #2

Thankfulness is the second topic for the questions I asked in Thanksgiving: The True Story, about how to connect Thanksgiving Day to the world outside my dining room table.  rc2_1126My questions are: When are we thankful? Just on Thanksgiving? Just when something good happens? Every day? For what are we thankful? Family and friends? Material objects? Good health? A four-day holiday? The people who prepared our feast? To whom or what are we thankful–to God, to another person, to luck, to an unknown entity? What do you think about thankfulness?  The 39-cent stamp was issued by the U.S. Postal Service in 2001.

Posted in Musings, My Books | Tagged | Leave a comment


TkCoversmallWriting my book “Thanksgiving: The True Story” prompted me to think about how to connect Thanksgiving Day to the world outside my dining room table. One way, I concluded in my book, is to ask questions around 4 topics: the food on our table, thankfulness, activities, and wider community.  Here is the first topic: “Questions about the food on our table. Where does our food come from? How will climate change affect our food supply? How can we make sure agriculture is sustainable? What can we do about poverty and hunger here and around the world?”  Please feel free to add your own questions, answers, topics, etc.   Before Thanksgiving, I’ll post the other questions, plus tell you the story about the Mother of Thanksgiving.  p.s. The turkeys on the book cover are eating their Thanksgiving dinner at a Farm Sanctuary.

Posted in My Books | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Susan B. Anthony and St. Paul

img617Carolyn Cowles Richards turned ten years old today, Nov. 21st, in 1852 and decided to start her diary. Here’s an excerpt from the forthcoming second edition of “Girls: A History of Growing Up Female in America” about the day Susan B. Anthony came to Canandaigua, NY, the small village where Carolyn and her siblings lived with their grandparents: “Over her grandmother’s objections, Caroline and her friends went to Susan B. Anthony’s lecture, where they signed a pledge “to do all in our power to bring about that glad day when equal rights should be the law in the land.”  Rebuking Caroline for embracing equality, her grandmother said “she guess Susan B. Anthony had forgotten that St. Paul said the women should keep silence.”
“No, she didn’t,” Caroline replied, “for she spoke particularly about St. Paul and said if he had lived in these times. . . . he would have been as anxious to have the women at the head of government as she was.”

Posted in Women's History | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Susan B. Anthony

In writing Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World, I was struck by their use of war language, also used by their co-workers and supporters. For example, here is a description of fifty-year-old Susan B. Anthony from The Heart and Home, in “Photographs of Our Agitators”: image20She is the Bismarck; she plans the campaigns, provides the munitions of war, organizes the raw recruits, sets the squadrons in the field. Indeed, in presence of a timid lieutenant, she sometimes heads the charge; but she is most effective as the directing generalissimo. Miss Anthony is a quick, bright, nervous, alert woman of fifty or so—not at all inclined to embonpoint—sharp-eyed, even behind her spectacles. She presides over the treasury, she cuts the Gordian knots, and when the uncontrollables get by the ears at the conventions, she is the one who straightway drags them asunder and turns chaos to order again. In every dilemma, she is unanimously summoned. As a speaker, she is angular and rigid, but trenchant, incisive, cutting through to the heart of whatever topic she touches. The photo is of SBA at the age of fifty.

Posted in Women's History | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Shirelles

Wow!  Last night Elizabeth Cady Stanton was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, a gala I attended with ECS’s great great granddaughter Coline Jenkins. Although thrilled that ECS was honored, I have to admit I was a bit star struck to meet two of the Shirelles, who were also inducted.  Originators of the Girl Group Sound, first all girl group of the Rock and Roll Era to score a number one record (yup, you got it–”Will You Still love Me Tomorrow”) etc., I wrote about the Shirelles in “Girls: A History of Growing Up Female in America.” Dionne Warwick introduced them & sang her own version of that song. The two surviving members with me are Shirley Alston Reeves and Beverly Lee. photo 1(p.s. for you Bruce Springsteen fans, he was the “surprise” who introduced another inductee Brian Williams.)

Posted in Women's History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Elizabeth Cady Stanton: The Whole Story

Imagine that you were born in 1815. Now, you would be 199 years old. So would Elizabeth Cady Stanton who really was born in 1815, on Nov. 12th.  She had bright blue eyes and brown curly hair that eventually became the whitest of white curly hair.  She had two younger and two older sisters and an older brother.

5513251Her brother died when she was eleven years old. His death devastated her father who had had high hopes for his son. Hoping to console her father, Elizabeth set out to prove that he could have high hopes for her too. That he would recognize, she later wrote, “the equality of the daughter with the son.” She had to prove that because her father, like many people throughout history, believed that a girl was weaker than a boy, that she did not need much education, that her future was marriage to a man who would legally be the boss of the family. If she spoke out in public, people would be shocked. She would not have rights we take for granted, including the right to vote.

Elizabeth never did convince her father; no matter her accomplishment he would just kiss her on the forehead and sadly say, “Ah, you should have been a boy!” And she did become a wife and the mother of seven children.  But that is not her whole story.

In July of 1848, Elizabeth initiated a groundbreaking women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, “to discuss the social, civil, and religious conditions and rights of women,” a very controversial idea. Supporters were ridiculed and reviled.   But Elizabeth kept fighting for women’s equality.


Water Wall with the Declaration of Sentiments by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Women’s Rights National Historical Park, Seneca Falls, NY.

A persuasive orator she lectured widely.  Frederick Douglass, the former slave and famous abolitionist, recalled that she thoroughly convinced him “of the wisdom & truth of the then new gospel of woman’s rights.” A prolific author, she wrote the “Declaration of Sentiments,” an iconic document that still moves people. A charismatic leader, she inspired people, including Susan B. Anthony, her trusted friend and coworker. Shortly before Elizabeth Cady Stanton died in 1902, Susan wrote: “It is fifty-one years since we first met and we have been busy through every one of them, stirring up the world to recognized the rights of women.” So, to Elizabeth Cady Stanton–Happy 199th Birthday!

Posted in Women's History | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

I Voted

Very cool:  I just came in from planting bulbs and found this email from Rebecca Lubetkin: “This one is for all of the women voters!
In the last 36 hours, Susan B. Anthony’s grave in Mt. Hope Cemetery has been visited by people adorning it with “I Voted” stickers.”1382940_10152894850697502_671643673109531219_n

Posted in Women's History | Tagged , , | 1 Comment