Canton church celebrates woman who saved Thanksgiving, based on Potsdam native's book
Monday, November 22, 2010 - 2:41 pm

CANTON -- The Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday celebrated the story of Sarah Josepha Hale -- the woman who saved Thanksgiving.

The intergenerational Thanksgiving service was based on the book “Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving,” by Potsdam native Laurie Halse Anderson.

In her story, Anderson tells of Sarah Hale, who was born in 1788 and had no formal education but was an avid reader and social activist. Along with fighting against slavery and for women’s and children’s rights, she felt strongly that Thanksgiving should be a national holiday. She loved the family tradition and “wanted the whole country to celebrate it on the same day.”

She wrote letters to politicians and enlisted the help of other women to convince government officials to make Thanksgiving a holiday. While many states made it an official holiday, the national government did not. Hale appealed to Presidents Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan, all of whom refused her request.

It wasn’t until her appeal reached President Abraham Lincoln that she made some progress. As Laurie Halse Anderson describes in her book, “America was at war, the North against the South. States that had promised to celebrate Thanksgiving changed their mind. The country was falling apart. It was a bleak and scary time.” She wrote to President Lincoln that “a holiday wouldn’t stop the war, but it could help bring the country together.”

Abraham Lincoln said yes, and in 1863 -- 38 years after Hale had begun her drive for a national Thanksgiving—the president made it a national holiday. Since then, the fourth Thursday of November has been a day for all Americans to give thanks together.