The story of the first American Thanksgiving at Plymouth Plantation in 1621 is well known. But more than 200 years lapsed until Thanksgiving Day became an annual national holiday -- thanks to the persistence of Sara Josepha Hale.
In 1789, President George Washington proclaimed Thursday, Nov. 26, as a "day of public thanksgiving and prayer." His next few successors issued similar, sporadic one-time declarations, although Thomas Jefferson declined to do so, arguing that an official call for a day of prayer conflicted with the separation of church and state. After James Madison declared a Thanksgiving Day on April 13, 1815, the holiday vanished from American history for almost half a century.
That did not sit well with Sara Hale.
As editor of Ladies Magazine and Godey's Lady's Book, in 1827 she began a campaign for a national day of Thanksgiving. Her writings generated growing support for the idea, but it took 36 years until she got results. In October 1863, President Abraham Lincoln finally set aside the fourth Thursday in November as the annual Thanksgiving Day. The holiday has been observed every year since, though President Franklin Roosevelt did tinker with the date to encourage business during the Depression.
(Main source: The Smithsonian Institution.)
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