Sarah Joseph Hale, the magazine editor, novelist and poet was born on October 24, 1788.
A truly remarkable woman, she is not well remembered today (except as the author of the children’s rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”) but she was an extraordinarily influential trendsetter in her day, described as the “Oprah and Martha Stewart combined” of 19th century America.
She published her first novel, Northwood: Life North and South, in 1827. It was not only one of the first novels published by a woman in America, it was one of the first novels to deal with the question of slavery. Hale was avowedly anti-slavery and promoted the then popular liberal view that slaves should be returned to Africa and the colony of Liberia.
In 1828 Hale became the editor of The Ladies Magazine and Literary Gazette (later re-named The American Ladies Magazine) and in 1836 it was merged with Louis Godey’s Godey’s Ladies Book, the most influential women’s publication of the time. She continued as editor until 1877, when she retired at the age of 89. She lived to be 91 years old.
As editor Hale had enormous clout in forming opinions on style, decor, culinary trends and literary taste. Hale was passionate about equal education for women. She was one of the co-founders of Vassar College. As an editor, she published authors like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving and Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Another passion of hers was promoting the New England based holiday Thanksgiving to national status, a task she worked at for 17 years before finally convincing President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 that it would be a unifying holiday after the trauma of the Civil War.
As for “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” Hale published it in a book of children’s verse in 1830. It is possibly based on an actual incident. In 1877 Thomas Edison recited it as the first ever recording on the newly invented phonograph.