Hale, Sarah Josepha
Sarah Josepha Hale 1788–1879
(Born Sarah Josepha Buell) American journalist, biographer, novelist, short story writer, and poet.
Author of one of the most famous children's poems ever written ("Mary Had a Little Lamb"), Hale fell into obscurity after her death and for most of the twentieth century. Her authorship of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" was both challenged and forgotten, and her other work was mostly ignored until feminist scholars rediscovered her in the 1990s. Recent critics have viewed Hale as a writer and editor who had a great deal of influence in the nineteenth century, and her opinions on the role of women, the slavery question, and morality have undergone serious study.
Hale was born on a farm in Newport, New Hampshire, the daughter of Gordon and Martha Buell. She was educated at home, at first by her mother and later by her brother Horatio, who tutored her in the courses he was studying at Dartmouth College. Between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four she taught school in Newport, giving up that profession when she married David Hale, a lawyer, in 1813. Her husband continued her education, studying history, French, and botany with her, and also encouraging her to write. She published a few poems and stories during this time but only turned to writing seriously after her husband died suddenly in 1822, leaving her with five children to support. In the next year, she published poems and stories in a variety of magazines and also completed her first book, The Genius of Oblivion and Other Original Poems (1823). After the publication of her novel Northwood (1827), she was offered the editorship of the new Ladies' Magazine, beginning a fifty-year career as an editor. In 1837 the Ladies' Magazine merged with Louis Godey's Lady's Book, and Hale became editor of the new publication, a post she held until 1877. In her role as editor, Hale contributed editorials, columns, and book reviews to the two publications. She also continued to write fiction and poetry, and published cookbooks, etiquette manuals, and her monumental Woman's Record (1853), a collection of biographies of notable women from the time of Eve until the mid-nineteenth century. Her most popular work was "Mary Had a Little Lamb," originally called "Mary's Lamb" (1830); it was frequently reprinted during her lifetime, though
often without crediting her as the author. Two years before her death, her authorship of the poem was questioned by Mary Sawyer Tyler, who claimed to be the original Mary and who said a classmate of hers had written the verses. In the 1920s, Tyler's claim won the support of Henry Ford, the automobile manufacturer, but there has never been any evidence for it, and modern scholars agree that the poem was indeed written by Hale.
Hale wrote a large number of works in a wide variety of genres, including novels, short stories, poems, plays, biographies, cookbooks, etiquette manuals, and journalistic contributions to the two magazines that she edited. Despite exploring these different genres, Hale's basic aim remained the same throughout her writings: to give advice and moral guidance. Even "Mary Had a Little Lamb" ends with a moral about being loving and kind to animals, and her novels and short stories tend to be didactic vehicles for her views on social issues and life in general. For instance, her novel Northwood promotes the New England virtues of hard work and domesticity as opposed to the supposed idleness and undisciplined leisure of the American South. Her novel Liberia (1853) advocates the emigration of slaves to Africa as a solution to the slavery problem. Her short story "The Catholic Convert," originally published as "The Unknown" (1830) asserts the shortcomings of celibacy and convent life, as opposed to marriage. In providing this sort of advice, Hale was acting in accordance with her philosophy as presented in Woman's Record: that it is the role of women to provide moral and spiritual leadership. Hale believed that although men were superior to women physically, women were superior morally, and it was women's duty to provide guidance to men and to refine men's "brute" natures. She maintained that it was also specifically women's duty to Christianize the world, for she saw Christ and the Christian virtues of meekness, mercy, purity, and charity as being essentially feminine. Hale was a believer in the doctrine of separate spheres for men and women; men were to engage in industry, business, and politics, while women were to be teachers, writers, and mothers.
In her own day, Hale was known primarily as an editor who campaigned for women's rights—especially a woman's right to be educated—and for other causes, such as the institution of a national Thanksgiving Day holiday. After her death, she fell into obscurity, but in recent years has been the subject of several studies, mostly by feminists seeking to establish her relation to feminism. Even in her own day, though, this relationship was seen as complicated; Hale campaigned for certain women's rights but opposed the vote for women and the notion that women should seek to do "men's work." As a result, a women's rights society stated after her death that Hale "mingled … the spirit of progress with true conservatism." Some later critics have portrayed Hale as militantly feminist and antislavery, while others have seen her as anti-feminist and sympathetic to slavery (because she preferred emigration to abolition as a solution to slavery). Although one modern commentator has described her as a liberal in conservative clothing, it is clear that Hale does not easily fit into conventional categories.
The Genius of Oblivion and Other Original Poems (poetry) 1823
Northwood: A Tale of New England (novel) 1827; revised edition, 1852
Sketches of American Character (short stories) 1829
*Poems for Our Children (poetry) 1830
Traits of American Life (short stories) 1835
Ormond Grosvenor (drama) 1838
The Good Housekeeper; or, The Wax to Live Well and To Be Well While We Live (handbook) 1839
Alice Ray: A Romance in Rhyme (poetry) 1845
Three hours; or, The Vigil of Love and Other Poems (poetry) 1848
The Judge (drama) 1851
Liberia, or Mr. Peyton's Experiments (novel) 1853
Woman 's Record; or, Sketches of All Distinguished Women, from "The Beginning" Till A.D. 1850 (history and biographies) 1853; revised editions, 1855, 1870
Mrs. Hole's Receipts for the Million (handbook) 1857
Manners; or, Happy Homes and Good Society All the Year Round (handbook) 1868
* Includes the poem "Mary's Lamb," more commonly known as "Mary Had a Little Lamb."
(The entire section is 135 words.)
SOURCE: "Chapter XVI: A Female Writer" in The Lady of Godey's: Sarah Josepha Hale, J. B. Lippincott Company, 1931, pp. 263-78.
[In the following excerpt, Finley surveys Hale's writings, discussing her style, her attitudes, and her subject matter.]
Of the many poems written by Sarah Hale only a few are remembered. These few, however, have become part and parcel of American ballad tradition, so much so that scarcely any one ever asks the name of the author. What modern stops to wonder who wrote "If Ever I See," "Our Father in Heaven," "It Snows," "Mary Had a Little Lamb"?—even though for the past few years the authorship of the last named verses has been figuring somewhat in the news.
This consigning of a creator to oblivion the while his creation endures in full flush of appeal is, in a true sense, the highest compliment posterity pays an artist—a compliment won by some through works of exceeding beauty. How many persons can reply offhand to the question—who painted Mona Lisa, the exquisite lady whose inscrutable smile has become proverbial? Sarah Hale won the compliment with a handful of nursery rhymes.
Mrs. Hale has been dead for half a century. The magazine she edited so long has passed with the needs of yesterday. All the many books she wrote are out of print. No attempt was ever made to collect the great mass of her prose and verse that lies scattered, not...
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SOURCE: "Chapter XVII: Mary's Lamb and Mr. Ford" in The Lady of Godey 's: Sarah Josepha Hale, J. B. Lippincott Company, 1931, pp. 279-305.
[In the following excerpt, Finley discusses the controversy surrounding Hale's authorship of the poem "Mary Had a Little Lamb."]
"Mary Had a Little Lamb," the most famous children's poem in the English language, was first printed in 1830. It was signed by Sarah Hale. Now Mrs. Hale's authorship of the first half of the poem has been challenged by Mr. Henry Ford, who has given credence to an old claim first made public in the late eighteen-seventies by a Mrs. Mary Sawyer Tyler. Mrs. Tyler asserted that she was the "Mary" of the poem, that it originally consisted of but twelve lines and was written by one John Roulstone, a youth who died in 1822.
"Mary's Lamb," as the poem was titled in Mrs. Hale's little volume of verse, Poems for Our Children, published by Marsh, Capen & Lyon of Boston some time subsequent to May 1, 1830, the date attached to the preface of the book, also was printed in the same year in a bi-monthly magazine for children called the Juvenile Miscellany. One of the earliest attempts to produce a child's periodical, the Miscellany was published in Boston by Putnam & Hunt, which firm also published Mrs. Hale's Ladies' Magazine, and lived from September, 1826, until about 1835. On page sixty-four of its...
(The entire section is 8543 words.)
SOURCE: "Point Counterpoint" in Cavalier and Yankee: The Old South and American National Character, George Braziller, 1961, pp. 122-41.
[In the following excerpt, Taylor discusses Hale's views regarding the ideal American character and the contrast between North and South as exhibited in her short stories and her novel Northwood.]
The Yankee Ethos in Limbo
The very fact of the novel [Northwood] is a puzzle. What had made a busy and hard-pressed widow living in a small provincial town sit down in the winter of 1826 and fill page after page with the story of Sidney Romilly? Why should she have concerned herself, as she did, with the South? Her whole life of thirty-eight years had been spent in and near the small town of Newport, New Hampshire. She knew as little about the South as she did about the Antipodes. She had evidently set out to paint an agreeable picture of the small provincial world she had known since her childhood. She had wanted to show that the village of Northwood, New Hampshire, where her story was set, was, like her own Newport, a society of independent, industrious and virtuous freemen or, as she put it, a society "of contented minds and grateful hearts."47 In Northwood a man might live by the labor of his hands in peace and plenty. To James Romilly, Sidney's father, his happy provincial home on a winter evening was a safe haven, almost womblike...
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SOURCE: "Onward Christian Women: Sarah J. Hale's History of the World." New England Quarterly, Vol. 63, No. 2, June, 1990, pp. 249-70.
[In the following excerpt, Baym discusses Hale's views on the moral superiority of women as expressed in Woman's Record.]
We know Sarah J. Hale as the editor, for almost half a century (1837-77), of Godey's Lady's Book. In that position she exercised considerable power (or, to use a word she would have preferred, influence) over emergent middle-class culture in the United States.1 Dedicated above all to the cause of women's education, Hale approached social issues with strongly expressed convictions that authorize the critic of today to see her either as a profound conservative or equally as a progressive liberal. More often than not, however, she is interpreted as a retrograde force, a woman who impeded the development of egalitarian feminism through her espousal of the ideology of separate spheres for the sexes and who contributed to the weakening of an older, vigorously masculine cultural style through her successful championing of an alternative feminine (i.e., sentimental, consumerist) aesthetic sensibility.2
The energy, indeed pugnacity, with which Hale undertook to promulgate an ideology of feminine meekness may look like duplicity if not outright hypocrisy—but only if one holds a simplistic notion of the concept of...
(The entire section is 7606 words.)
SOURCE: "Two Visions of the Republic" in Declarations of Independence: Women and Political Power in Nineteenth-Century American Fiction, Rutgers University Press, 1990, pp. 17-37.
[In the following excerpt, Bardes and Gossett note the importance of community and comment on the role of women in Hale's novel Northwood.]
Six years before Tocqueville makes similar observations on the status of American women, Squire Romelee, the voice of wisdom in Sarah Josepha Hale's Northwood, comments:
I presume you will not find, should you travel throughout the United States, scarcely a single female engaged in the labors of the field or any kind of out-door work as it is called. And the manner in which women are treated is allowed to be a good criterion by which to judge of the character and civilization of a people. Wherever they are oppressed, confined, or made to perform the drudgery, we may be sure the men are barbarians. But I do not believe there is now or ever was a nation which treated their women with such kindness and consideration, tenderness and respect, as we Americans do ours. Here they are educated to command esteem, and considered as they deserve to be, the guardians of domestic honor and happiness, friends and companions of man.1
Although Romelee's analysis of woman's role makes no mention of political rights or the...
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SOURCE: "Sarah Hale, Political Writer" in Feminism and American Literary History: Essays, Rutgers University Press, 1992, pp. 167-75.
[In the following excerpt, Baym discusses the political nature of Hale's writings and describes a shift she sees in them from an interest in general political issues to an emphasis on women's role in society.]
Sarah Josepha Hale, author of poems, stories, sketches, a play, novels, and several home reference books, is remembered chiefly for her lengthy tenure (1837-77) as editor of Godey's Lady's Book, the most widely read women's magazine of its day. Using her position year after year to advance the doctrine of separate spheres for women and men, Hale is assumed by most critics to have exerted considerable influence on the gender ideology and cultural mores of the nineteenth-century American middle class.1
The doctrine of the separate spheres was once thought to reflect reality; now it is recognized as a rhetorical construct designed to intervene in cultural life but over whose content there was no consensus. Contemporary feminist scholars differ over their descriptions of the doctrine, their assessment of its liberating potential for women, and, therefore—explicitly or implicitly—their judgment of Hale's work.2 Everybody agrees, however, that Hale was firmly committed to keeping women out of politics and that she used the...
(The entire section is 5098 words.)
SOURCE: "Sarah Josepha Hale, Lydia Sigourney, and the Poetic Tradition in Two Nineteenth-Century Women's Magazines," American Periodicals: A Journal of History, Criticism, and Bibliography, Vol. 3, 1993, pp. 32-42.
[In the following excerpt, Okker examines Hale's views on women's poetry as reflected in her editing of Godey's Lady's Book and Ladies' Magazine.]
No doubt in part because of her authorship of "Mary Had a Little Lamb," Sarah Josepha Hale—editor first of the Ladies' Magazine and then for forty-one years of Godey's Lady's Book—is often described in the context of … [what Allison Bulsterbaum has called] "mawkish, moralistic poetry" (144). Specifically, Hale is remembered as one of the many nineteenth-century editors who promoted a highly restricted notion of women's poetry. In their respective studies of American women's poetry, in fact, Emily Stipes Watts, Cheryl Walker, and Alicia Suskin Ostriker all cite Hale's declaration in 1829 that "the path of poetry, like every other path in life, is to the tread of woman, exceedingly circumscribed" (Ladies' Magazine 2: 142).2 In many ways, such statements place Hale in what Ostriker has described as the genteel tradition:
What the genteel tradition demanded of the ladies was that they bare their hearts, gracefully and without making an unseemly spectacle of themselves....
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SOURCE: "Errand into Africa: Colonization and Nation Building in Sarah J. Hale's Liberia," New England Quarterly, Vol. LXVIII, No. 4, December, 1995, pp. 558-83.
[In the following excerpt, Ryan discusses Hale's position, expressed in her novel Liberia, that the only way to solve the slavery problem was for the slaves to return to Africa.]
To many white Americans before the Civil War, the idea of "returning" free blacks and manumitted slaves to Africa sounded like the perfect solution to the United States' increasingly rancorous and violent racial problems. Generally thought a moderate position in its day—compared to radical abolitionist and pro-slavery sentiments—colonizationism has since come to seem (as it seemed to most anti-slavery activists at the time) misguided at best, and venomous at worst, in its attempt to eliminate racial difference within the United States and so to evade the troubling issues such difference inevitably raised. It is no surprise, then, that Harriet Beecher Stowe's advocacy of African colonization near the end of Uncle Tom's Cabin—probably the plan's most famous articulation—has elicited innumerable condemnations, lamentations, and apologies in the more than 140 years since the novel's publication….
If Stowe's colonizationist stance troubled anti-slavery activists, they must have been significantly more perturbed by a novel like Sarah...
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SOURCE: "Sarah J. Hale, Selective Promoter of Her Sex" in A Living of Words: American Women in Print Culture, edited by Susan Albertine, University of Tennessee Press, 1995, pp. 18-34.
[In the following excerpt, Bardes and Gossett explore Hale's views on women's roles, especially as reflected in her Woman's Record.]
Interpretations of Hale's life and career have varied widely, depending largely upon the period and upon the interpreter's attitude toward powerful women. Yet as we survey Hale's works, the most consistent element, the invariable factor whether one considers Hale radical or conventional in her activities, is her dedication to the promotion of her own sex. Within her own ideologically inflected definition of what was appropriate, she unwaveringly favored women's activities and, specifically, their literary achievements. These ideals are continuously expressed from her earliest editorials in the Ladies ' Magazine to her final revision of Woman's Record, her encyclopedia of women's achievements.
It is not surprising that those who compare Hale to other major nineteenth-century figures in publishing are most struck by what she was able to accomplish despite her gender. Mott, the historian of magazines, describes Hale simply as "a great woman" (583), praiseworthy especially for her commitment to female education (349). For Eugene Exman, writing about the house of...
(The entire section is 7180 words.)
SOURCE: "From Intellectual Equality to Moral Difference: Hale's Conversion to Separate Spheres" in Our Sister Editors: Sarah J. Hale and the Tradition of Nineteenth-Century American Women Editors, University of Georgia Press, 1995, pp. 38-58.
[In the following excerpt, Okker discusses what she sees as a shift in Hale's writings from a belief in the Enlightenment notion of equality between the sexes to the Victorian notion of separate spheres of endeavor for men and women.]
Hale's writings during these early years [of her career] show little sign that she would eventually promote absolute notions of sexual difference and the idea of gendered separate spheres. Hale's novel Northwood: A Tale of New England, published in 1827, reveals her grounding in Enlightenment values. Though the novel does associate women with domesticity and men with politics, it repeatedly portrays ideal men and women as practically identical—rational, industrious, and frugal.13 Hale's view of shared, rather than divergent, traits among men and women is particularly evident in the novel's exploration of marriage. Lydia and Horace Brainard are relatively unhappy together, precisely because Lydia's education neglected her intellectual abilities. Thus, when Horace's attempts at "rational conversation" with his new wife fail and he realizes that only "insipid, common-place chat" can entertain her, he reflects unhappily...
(The entire section is 5914 words.)
SOURCE: "The Professionalization of Authorship" in Our Sister Editors: Sarah J. Hale and the Tradition of Nineteenth-Century American Women Editors, University of Georgia Press, 1995, pp. 84-109.
[In the following excerpt, Okker examines Hale's views on writing, especially writing by women.]
Although Hale did contribute to the successful careers of writers like [Edgar Allan] Poe, [Lydia] Sigourney, and [Harriet Beecher] Stowe, she did not encourage all writers. In fact, she often used her editorial pages to discuss the difficulties associated with professional literary careers. While clearly discouraging to some would-be writers, Hale's editorials about authorship may have helped writers like Poe and Stowe even more than her publication of their works, for in these editorials Hale repeatedly rejected the idea that anyone could become an author. Like any other occupation that required training, talent, and hard work, authorship, according to Hale, deserved professional respect.
Hale's editorial support for professional authorship is evident in her many descriptions of a continuum of writers, ranging from the amateur to the professional. She made clear distinctions between "anonymous or voluntary contributors" and "regularly engaged and paid writers" [Godey's Lady's Book (hereafter GLB)] April 1840, 190), and she accepted the idea that the two groups deserved different treatment....
(The entire section is 4398 words.)
SOURCE: "'The Dark Stranger': Sensationalism and Anti-Catholicism in Sarah Josepha Hale's Traits of American Life," Legacy, Vol. 14, No. 1, 1997, pp. 13-24.
[In the following excerpt. Griffin focuses on the Protestant-Catholic conflict in Hale's story "The Catholic Convert."]
In "The Romance of Travelling," one of the sketches collected in Sarah Josepha Hale's 1835 Traits of American Life, Hale focuses on Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire, as a typical American landscape, which "gives to the heart a sensation like that of suddenly meeting the smiling face of a friend" (195). Hale follows the landscape tradition of focussing on the reflective and imaginative qualities that water lends to landscape (195; Novak 40-41). Conventional, too, is Hale's discovery of a ruined habitation in the landscape, a site that marks time's passing and signals historical depth. Yet the "remembrance connected with the lake" and its ruin which provides the material for Hale's story is hardly a conventionally poetic one. For Lake Sunapee was once, Hale tells her audience, the source of a whirlwind that devastated a local farming family. The parents escaped unharmed, but their home became the ruin and their infant, Mary, disappeared—only her gown was recovered. "Whether her little form was reduced to atoms by the grinding storm, or thrown by the wind into the lake, or carried into the wilderness, is a secret the last trumpet...
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Blanck, Jacob. "Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, 1788-1879." In Bibliography of American Literature, Vol. 3, 319-40. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959.
Contains a detailed list of Hale's writings.
Hoffman, Nicole Tonkovich. "Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1874 [sic])." Legacy 7, No. 2 (1990): 47-55.
Brief survey of Hale's life and works. Includes bibliography.
Martin, Lawrence. "The Genesis of Godey's Lady's Book." New England Quarterly 1 (1928): 41-70.
A discussion of Hale's aims and activities as an editor.
Rogers, Sherbrooke. Sarah Josepha Hale: A New England Pioneer, 1788-1879. Grantham, N.H.: Tompson & Rutter, 1985.
An overview of Hale's life, focusing primarily on her work as an editor and her campaigns for various causes.
Tonkovich, Nicole. Domesticity with a Difference: The Nonfiction of Catharine Beecher, Sarah J. Hale, Fanny Fern, and Margaret Fuller. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1997.
A comparative study which includes biographical information on Hale as well as an analysis of her views on the...
(The entire section is 217 words.)