Sarah Josepha Hale

Sarah Josepha Hale

Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (October 24, 1788 - April 30, 1879) was an American writer. She is well known as the author of the popular nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

Life and career

Hale was born in Newport, New Hampshire to Captain Gordon Buell and Martha Whittlesay Buell. Early on in her life, she was educated by her mother and her brother Horatio who taught her what he had learned at Dartmouth; later on, Hale was an autodidact. In 1813, she married David Hale, a lawyer, with whom she had five children before his death in 1822. In 1823, with the monetary support of her (then late) husband's Freemason lodge, she published a collection of her poems entitled The Genius of Oblivion. Her novel, Northwood, was the first novel about slavery.

From 1827 until 1836, Hale served as editor of Ladies' Magazine in Boston. Her collection Poems for Our Children, which includes the now-famous "Mary Had a Little Lamb", was published in 1830, though its original title was "Mary's Lamb". The poem was intentionally written for children, an audience for which many women poets of this period were writing. In 1837 she began working as editor of Godey's Lady's Book in Philadelphia. She remained editor at Godey's for forty years, retiring almost at the age of ninety in 1877. During this time, she became one of the most important and influential arbiters of American taste. She also edited several issues of the annual gift book The Opal.

In its day, Godey's, with no significant competitors, had an influence unimaginable for any single publication today. The magazine is credited with an ability to influence fashions not only for women's clothes, but also in domestic architecture. Godey's published house plans that were copied by home builders nationwide. Perhaps more significantly, Mrs. Hale was a strong advocate for a number of causes. Her championship of education for women began with her editorship of the Ladies' Magazine and continued until she retired. For example, her influence, which included no fewer than seventeen articles and editorials devoted to the subject, is credited with helping make the founding of Vassar College acceptable to a public unaccustomed to the idea of women's education She opened the pages of the magazine to Catherine Beecher, Emma Willard and other early advocates of education for women.

Hale was also a strong advocate of the American nation and union. In the 1820's and 30's, a time when other American Magazines merely compiled and reprinted articles form British periodicals, Hale was among the leaders of a group of American editors who insisted on publishing American writers. In practical terms, this meant that she sometimes personally wrote half of the material published in the Ladies' Magazine. In later years, it meant that she particularly liked to publish fiction with American themes, the frontier, Thanksgiving, and historical fiction set during the American Revolution. Hale adamantly opposed slavery, but she was equally devoted to the Union. She campaigned in her pages for a unified American culture and nation, frequently running stories in which southerners and northerners fought together against the British, or in which a southerner and a northerner fell in love and married.

During this time, Hale wrote many novels and poems, publishing nearly fifty volumes of work by the end of her life. She also was an early advocate of higher education for women.

Hale died at her home, 1413 Locust Street in Philadelphia, on April 30, 1879. She is buried in a simple grave in the Laurel Hill Cemetery, Ridge Ave., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


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. In support of the proposed national holiday, she wrote letters to five Presidents of the United States -- to Zachary Taylor, to Millard Filmore, to Franklin Pierce, to James Buchanan and to 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.

Hale also helped raise money in Boston for the completion of the Bunker Hill Monument.

Liberty Ship #1538 (1943-1972) was named in her honor.

A prestigious literary prize, the Sarah Josepha Hale Award is named for her.

She was further honored as the fourth in a series of historical bobblehead dolls created by the New Hampshire Historical Society and sold in their museum store in Concord, N. H.

Selected works

  • Northwood, or, Life North and South (1852)
  • Flora's Interpreter; or, The American Book of Flowers and Sentiments



External links

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