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The Woman Behind Thanksgiving

Image of Sarah Hale, editor of Godey's Lady Book
Wikimedia Commons


Many people sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner may hearken back to some version of a story about Pilgrims and Native Americans feasting together. 

But religious studies scholar Anne Blue Wills says the current version of Thanksgiving would have been unrecognizable to the Pilgrims it supposedly honors. Wills’s research shows that Thanksgiving was never a regular ritualized holiday during the Pilgrim era, and the version of the holiday celebrated today is a result of a journalistic crusader named Sarah Hale

She edited a popular women’s magazine in the mid 1800s. Hale was the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine in the mid 1800s and wanted Thanksgiving to be a patriotic holiday that would unite Americans in pious, puritan values. She aggressively promoted Thanksgiving through columns and stories before President Abraham Lincoln finally declared it a federal holiday in 1863.

Host Frank Stasio talks to Anne Blue Wills, an associate professor of religion at Davidson College, about her journal article “Pilgrims and Progress: How Magazines Made Thanksgiving."

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Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist and the host and creator of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health. She's also the managing editor of WUNC's on-demand content.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.