Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Genius of Oblivion

[Here’s a short essay from Eberle about a woman who wrote one of our best known nursery rhymes & who also played a big role in creating the holiday we’re celebrating today in the States!]

Did you ever wonder who wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb”? That would be Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (1788-1879), one of the most read and cited women authors in America during the 1820s. For Sarah, as for many women authors in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, children’s literature was part of establishing a financially viable existence as a writer. Because children’s literature was considered by many to be less unwomanly than other kinds of authorship (and less serious) it often provided a gateway for women into various kinds of writing careers. Sarah Hale became an all-around professional: writer, editor, publisher, celebrity.

After the success of a book of poems (The Genius of Oblivion and Other Poems) as well as a novel, Northwood: A Tale of New England, Sarah was asked in 1828 to edit the new Ladies Magazine, published in Boston. In addition to editing the magazine, which proved a successful venture, she wrote a wide variety of material for it. She later became the editor of the famous Godey’s Lady’s Book, establishing herself as an arbiter of taste and behavior. A prolific writer as well as editor, she was the author of cookbooks, housekeeping books, collections of poetry and essays, novels, and children's books. She turned the Godey’s office into a publications business, issuing a variety of compilations, reprints, and translations.

Sarah worked actively for women’s rights, having first-hand experience of the difficulties that a
woman faced as a single parent—she was widowed while pregnant with her fifth child in 1822. In the following year, she published The Genius of Oblivion and Other Poems. The family had been living in Newport, New Hampshire, Sarah’s birthplace in 1788. She moved to Boston when she became the Ladies Magazine editor, and to Philadelphia when she was editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book. At a time when women did not find the road to publication or a career easy, Sarah persisted in creative and professional work. She placed great importance on the role of women, and left a fine legacy in her Woman's Record; or Sketches of Distinguished Women, a multi-volume work containing biographical sketches of more than 1,500 women and published over a period of 23 years, from 1853-1876. Sarah retired from business at the age of ninety, two years before her death.

Eberle Umbach
© 2007-2009

[Note: As you can read in the following excerpt from Wikipedia, Sarah Josepha Hale was instrumental in creating the Thanksgiving holiday here in the States
—in fact the second image in this post is a letter Hale sent to President Lincoln discussing the proposed Thanksgiving holiday. Happy Thanksgiving to all our U.S. readers, & happy Thursday to all!]

Hale is credited as the individual most responsible for making Thanksgiving a national holiday in the United States; it had previously been celebrated only in New England. Each state scheduled its own holiday, some as early as October and others as late as January; it was largely unknown in the American South. Her advocacy for the national holiday began in 1846 and lasted 17 years before it was successful. In support of the proposed national holiday, she wrote letters to five Presidents of the United States—Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln. Her initial letters failed to persuade, but the letter she wrote to Lincoln did convince him to support legislation establishing a national holiday of Thanksgiving in 1863. The new national holiday was considered a unifying day after the stress of the American Civil War. Prior to the addition of Thanksgiving, the only national holidays celebrated in the United States were Washington's Birthday and Independence Day.


  1. Another fascinating post. Great subject, well handled.

  2. Thanks Dave--Eberle is quite interested in Sarah Josepha Hale & is working on a song about her.


Thanks for stopping by & sharing your thoughts. Please do note, however, that this blog no longer accepts anonymous comments. All comments are moderated. Thanks for your patience.