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Park Proposed to Honor Newport Native Sarah Josepha Hale

Sarah Josepha Hale

Sarah Josepha Hale

Newport — Newport native Sarah Josepha Hale is known to most everyone as the woman who persuaded President Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a national holiday.

Though significant, that accomplishment, which was achieved after a letter writing campaign to five presidents over a 17-year period, only scratches the surface of what Hale achieved during her lifetime.

Now, thanks to an anonymous donation, residents and visitors to Newport will be able learn more about the achievements of the influential 19th century author and editor in a new park planned on the grounds of the Richards Free Library.

The Planning Board recently approved the site plan for the park and librarian Andrea Thorpe said yesterday construction would likely begin in June, with the goal to officially dedicate the park on the 150th anniversary of Thanksgiving in November.

Finnish sculptor Jari Mannisto, who created the sculpture outside the Lehtinen Senior Center, is working on several pieces for the memorial, Thorpe said, all of which represent elements of Hale’s work.

“Most people don’t know how important she was,” Thorpe said.

The proposed park will border Belknap Street to the north and Main Street to the east in a small parcel that abuts the library parking lot to the south. Some of that space, which is a combination of grass and trees, is dedicated to future parking needs but the remainder will be for the park.

Conceptual plans show cobblestone or brick walkways lined with native trees leading from the sidewalk on Main Street and the library parking lot to a circular base that will include a bust of Hale on a block of black granite as the centerpiece.

Thorpe emphasized that the final plans are still being discussed but ideas include a scroll with the Thanksgiving proclamation and a obelisk, representing the monument at Bunker Hill in Boston, the site of the first major battle of the Revolutionary War. Hale was instrumental in raising money to complete the monument in 1843.

Beneath the bust of Hale on the granite would be a legend of her accomplishments. A bronze sculpture appearing as a stack of the books written by Hale is another idea, Thorpe said.

The park will be landscaped with native trees and bushes including flowering crab apples, lindens and lilacs.

“We want to have a park that is educational and also contemplative,” Thorpe said.

Hale’s achievements as an author and advocate for women, particularly in education, are where she stands out in an era when women remained at home.

Widowed at age 34 when her husband, lawyer David Hale died in 1822, Hale began writing to support her five young children. She published a collection of poems in 1823 called The Genius of Oblivion. Her first book, Northwood, had an antislavery theme.

Hale left Newport about five years after her husband died and moved to Boston to become editor of Ladies Magazine. In 1841, she began 40 years as editor of Godey’s Ladies Book in Philadelphia.

She died in 1879 at age 91.

In 1956, Richards Library created the Sarah Josepha Hale Award, given annual to a New England writer.

Thorpe also said she will apply for Literary Landmark Association status for the park.

Started in 1986, landmark status recognizes historic literary sites throughout the country. Some notable dedications have been for Mark Twain’s boyhood home and the homes of Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner.

Thorpe said the prominent location is ideal.

“It will be on a busy street, coming in to town and I think will add another destination to Newport,” she said.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.