Godey’s Lady’s Book, Sara Hale was the editor and used the magazine as her platform to promote her various causes.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I was researching the history of the holiday. I knew that our modern gathering held little in common with the original Pilgrim’s holiday, but what I didn’t know was the significant role that the accomplished Sarah Josepha Buell Hale had on the holiday.

Paintings such as this one helped build our story of Thanksgiving–The First Thanksgiving 1621, Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1899

The lobbyist for Thanksgiving, Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, 1788-1879

One of the first women editors, she used her influence while editing “Godey’s Lady Book” to popularize many of the recipes that we now associate with Thanksgiving such as roasted turkey and pumpkin pie. Author, teacher, and poet, she was devoted to the idea that women should be educated the same way as men. She wrote this letter in 1863 to Mr. Lincoln in support of Thanksgiving being an annual national holiday.

Hale’s letter to Abraham Lincoln to argue for making Thanksgiving a holiday

Despite all her accomplishments, one poem brought her the most recognition in history, “Mary’s Lamb”. Stories abound that the poem was based on a true story, possibly her own. 

True story?

The artist W.W. Denslow illustrated the poem. He is best known for his illustrations of the first several books of the “The Wizard of Oz”series. I always loved the work of the second illustrator of Oz books, John Rea Neill, with his Art Noveau style–but Denslow had a interesting way of relating images with the type.

Mary Had a Little Lamb, illustrated by William Wallace Denslow of Wizard of Oz fame.

2 colors and a really interesting interaction between type and images.

Using color to simulate a wall

The second Oz illustrator, John Rea Neill

Part of the success of “Mary’s Lamb” may have been that Thomas Edison selected it to be the first thing ever recorded on his newly designed phonograph in 1878.

The first recording was Edison reading Mary’s Lamb.

I’d like to think of the way traditions travel through time, picking up influences along the way and changing through the actions of artists and the writers who shape the public view. Thanksgiving in some form began almost 400 years ago, and even though the original feast was venison the thought remains the same.