Dear Alfred University students, staff, and faculty:
This Thursday, we observe Thanksgiving, a day which affords the opportunity for us to take stock of and be grateful for our blessings.
The history of Thanksgiving in America can be traced back to the time of the settling of the Plymouth Bay Colony in the early 17th century. Its traditional celebration at the end of November is a credit to noted 19th century author Sarah Hale. Hale, a women’s rights activist, was an early advocate for higher education for women who helped found Vassar College in 1861.
In the early 19th century, Thanksgiving was largely celebrated in the New England states, with each state marking the event at various dates: some as early as October; others as late as November. In southern states, the holiday was for the most part unknown. Hale began writing to U.S. presidents, asking their support in declaring Thanksgiving a national holiday. At the time, the only national holidays were Washington’s birthday and Independence Day. Her letters failed to convince presidents Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan. However, her missive to President Abraham Lincoln, sent soon after the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, convinced him to issue a proclamation on October 3, 1863 establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday on the last Thursday of November.
While every generation of Americans has faced their own varied and significant challenges, we can take heart in the underlying and shared resilience in the face of adversity displayed across the generations. Most importantly, we can be grateful for the inspiration provided by so many Americans through their commitment to improving our national experiment based on government of the people, by the people, and for the people, through ensuring that all individuals are able to realize the blessings flowing from their inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Among those to whom we owe a debt of gratitude is Sarah Hale, not only for her persistence in lobbying for Thanksgiving as a national holiday, but for her work in making higher education more accessible for women. At Alfred University— the first institution of higher education in United States to admit women and allow them to pursue the same full course of studies offered to male students—the latter is of particular significance.