Born Sarah Buell in Newport, New Hampshire on October 24, 1788, young Sarah was blessed to have parents who were part of the progressive, intellectual movement that was taking root in the New England area at the time. Her parents believed strongly in education and in providing the same educational opportunities to girls as were available to boys, a somewhat radical thought at the time!
Sarah’s love of learning would be a common thread throughout her life as she continued to educate herself, eventually working as a schoolmarm before her 1813 marriage to a lawyer named David Hale. David is reported as having been highly supportive of his wife’s educational aspirations. Unfortunately, in 1822 David died leaving Sarah with four children and another on the way. Summoning her intellectual powers Sarah turned to publishing to support her family. With the help of her late husband’s Masonic Lodge (who underwrote the cost of publishing her first book) she wrote a book of poetry entitled The Genius of Oblivion. The sales from this volume supported her family and enabled her to publish numerous other novels, social commentaries and poetry books. Her first novel Northwood: Life North and South published in 1827 dealt with the degradations of slavery and brought her to the attention of a wider audience. As a result, she moved to Boston and took up the editorship of the Ladies’ Magazine founded by Reverend John Lauris Blake, becoming one of the first women in America (if not the first) to hold such a position.
In 1830 Hale penned a collection of children’s verses entitled Poems for Our Children. This volume contained the first publication of the rhyme Mary’s Lamb (later to be known as Mary Had a Little Lamb). Although there is still some question as to who may have made up this story, Hale’s publication of it brought the rhyme into the nurseries of America, cementing its place in the memories of childhood for generations to come.
1830 was also the year that Louis Antoine Godey of Philadelphia began publishing his own magazine called the Lady’s Book. In 1836 Godey purchased the Ladies’ Magazine from Reverend Blake. Godey merged his two magazines which he now called Godey’s Lady’s Book and in 1837 he made one of the best decisions of his life when he asked Sarah Hale to take over the editorship of his magazine. (Another smart choice made by Godey was to copyright each issue, which was a relatively new concept in the publishing of periodicals at the time).
Under Sarah’s direction the magazine included fashion advice and beautifully engraved fashion illustrations along with household advice, moral contemplations, architectural plans for the ideal home, as well as fiction and non-fiction contributions from many of the top authors, male and female, of the 19th century. Sarah’s taste and advice was emulated by the magazine’s subscribers, as Godey’s became the most widely circulated magazine in the USA rising from 70,000 in the 1840s to 150,000 in 1860 under Hale’s leadership.
Along with goals of expanding educational and professional opportunities for women Sarah would also champion a number of causes which she felt improved the common good. In 1833 she helped found the Seaman’s Aid Society in Boston, serving as its first President. She was instrumental in the drive to save the American national heritage by supporting the building of the Bunker Hill Monument and actively participating in the drive to preserve Mount Vernon. Hale began a campaign in 1846 which culminated in the 1863 establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Hale’s letter on the topic to President Lincoln has been cited as the impetus for his decision to signify a day for thanksgiving and praise throughout the nation.
In her later years Hale resided in Philadelphia, PA. Sarah Josepha Hale would continue as editor for Godey’s Lady’s book until 1877. She died on April 30, 1879 and is buried in the Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.
Author – Linda Edward
Arlene M. Coleman Ruth Gibbs Godey’s Little Lady Dolls. Doylestown, Purple Turtle Books, 2017
Charlotte Eldridge The Godey Lady Doll. New York: Hastings House Publishers, 1953Arlisha Norwood “Sarah Hale.” National Women’s History Museum, 2017