Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, born in the USA was a magazine editor and writer who achieved worldwide fame with her composition of one of the most famous children’s nursery rhymes ever, Mary Had a Little Lamb.
She had a keen sense of public duty and has two major achievements to her name in that line. Her campaigning efforts brought about the Thanksgiving holiday and she also helped to effect the Bunker Hill Monument’s completion.
She was born Sarah Josepha Buell on the 24th October 1788 in Newport, New Hampshire. She was educated at home along with her brother and much of what she learned could be attributed to her autodidactic abilities. She became a school teacher and married a lawyer by the name of David Hale in 1811. Tragically, Sarah was widowed only eleven years later but she had managed to produce five children during their short time together. Her husband’s death affected her so deeply that she wore mourning black for the rest of her life.
She decided to become a writer and, in 1823, she had her first collection of poems published, called The Genius of Oblivion. She was very concerned about the plight of black slaves and her novel, published in 1827, was called Northwood: Life North and South, with the alternative title in London of A New England Tale. The subject matter was ground-breaking, especially for a female writer. She strongly believed that both master and slave were dehumanised by the process. The effect on the slave was obvious but she pointed out that those who kept slaves risked the psychological, moral and technological progress of the world in which they lived.
Her fame spread and she was invited to take up the editorship of the Ladies’ Magazine in Boston, a post which she held from 1828 to 1836. Hale saw this as an opportunity to educate her female readers and she stated:
She soon published a collection of poems called Poems for Our Children, and this included a piece originally called Mary’s Lamb but, of course, it soon became known by the longer title Mary Had a Little Lamb. Here is the poem:
Hale’s success with the Ladies’ Magazine brought her to the attention of a Philadelphia magazine owner and he bought her publication, merging the two together. In 1837 she was now running Godey’s Lady’s Book and the owner wanted her to relocate but she insisted on staying in Boston to edit from there. She stayed in this post for some forty years, almost up to the time of her death. It was a very influential magazine, attracting contributions from women such as Caroline Lee Hentz and Frances Sargent Osgood, as well as from men including Nathaniel Hawthorne and Oliver Wendell Holmes, plus scores of other famous writers.
As well as her considerable efforts with the magazine, Hale produced at least fifty books of poetry or prose. She was working almost up to the end. Her vigorous campaigning, including writing to President Abraham Lincoln, brought about the creation of a national holiday of Thanksgiving in 1863. Along with many other good works she raised money and persuaded others to do the same so that the Bunker Hill Monument could be completed.
Sarah Josepha Buell Hale died at home in Philadelphia on the 30th April 1879 at the age of 90.