Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sarah Josepha Hale

Today is the birthday of Sarah Josepha Hale, born in Newport, New Hampshire in 1788, and one of the most influential women of the nineteenth century. She was a schoolteacher before her marriage, and began to write poetry and essays which were published.

Her husband died in 1822, leaving her with five small children to support. Friends from the Freemason lodge to which he had belonged helped her to start a millinery shop with her sister, and also raised money to publish her first book of poetry, The Genius of Oblivion (1823), though she was credited as “a Lady of New Hampshire.” This was followed a few years later by her novel, Northwood (1827), on the subject of slavery (two decades before Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin).

The novel was praised by a Boston Episcopal minister, John Lauris Blake, who asked Hale to move to Boston and become editor of Ladies' Magazine, which he owned (she preferred the title of “editress”). In 1837 the magazine was bought by
Louis Antoine Godey and merged with his own publication, Godey's Lady's Book, with Hale as the editor. Godey's became the highest circulation magazine in the country, and Hale purposefully used the magazine as a means of educating women on various topics. She met all the leading activists for the cause of education, publishing their articles and supporting their efforts.

The establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday is also attributed to Sarah Hale. Over nearly forty years she wrote letters to state and federal officials to lobby for a nation-wide observance. She had described the sort of celebration she envisioned in her novel Northwood. Various days of thanksgiving had been declared before, the first in 1777, and some states, such as New York, had adopted their own days. The Protestant Episcopal Church (of which Hale was a member) in 1789 had decreed the first Thursday in November as a day of thanks. Hale wrote editorials in support of the holiday in her magazine, such as this one from 1858, which begins with lines from a hymn of thanks by Anna Laetitia Barbauld. Finally, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln decreed the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day in the US.

Hale published more than fifty books in her lifetime, including novels, poetry, and children's literature. Her most well-known poem, Mary had a little lamb, was first published in 1830 in a collection titled Poems for Our Children. It was later set to music by Lowell Mason, a fellow strong advocate of education.

This text by Hale first appeared in Mason's Church Psalmody (1831).

Our Father in heaven, we hallow thy Name;
May thy kingdom holy on earth be the same;
O give to us daily our portion of bread;
It is from thy bounty that all must be fed.

Forgive our transgressions, and teach us to know
That humble compassion which pardons each foe;
Keep us from temptation, from evil and sin,
And thine be the glory, forever! Amen!

Sarah Josepha Hale, 1831
Josiah Hopkins, 1830

A later edition of Church Psalmody suggests the tune FOUNDATION, but that tune had probably not yet been published in 1831. Other tunes that would work (though they are also much better known with other texts) include GORDON and ST. DENIO. However, since there has clearly been no great desire to sing rather than say the Lord's Prayer, this hymn is not particularly well known.

Hale finally retired as the “editress” of Godey's Lady's Book at the age of 89, two years before her death in 1879. The
Sarah Josepha Hale Award has been established in her honor, to recognize “a distinguished body of work in the field of literature and letters” by authors and artists with a New England connection.

P.S. The portrait of Hale is by James Reid Lambdin, while the picture below is the work of W.W. Denslow, perhaps best known as the original illustrator of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900).

1 comment:

Dorothy said...

What an interesting life she led!

I've never read "Northwood" but I'm thinking it needs to be on my list.